British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth (RCY), along with the provincial government, introduced a new plan to keep more children with their mothers and out of government care, while ensuring the children are kept safe.
The government released a joint report on Wednesday in connection with the RCY that found on average, more than 500 infants under 12 months old entered government care each year from 2013-14 to 2017-18.
In 2017-18, 197 infants who were less than seven days old were brought into care. Both the government and the RCY are aiming to reduce that number and make sure that infants who are brought into care have access to the health, developmental and attachment benefits that breastfeeding can provide.
“As a mother and a grandmother, I understand the importance of breastfeeding for an infant’s development and for building the mother-child bond,” said Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy.
“As a ministry, it is so important that as part of our commitment to keeping children safe and connected to their families and communities, we are promoting and enabling opportunities for new mums to breastfeed.”
Nearly 70 per cent of the infants removed from their parents were Indigenous.
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The report recommends five immediate actions, including better practices for social workers to plan with families to keep mothers and infants together and developing guidelines for social workers to promote breastfeeding when an infant has been separated from his or her birth mother, including providing breast pumps and addressing breastfeeding within the context of substance use.
The report also suggests researching supportive housing alternatives where mothers and their infants at risk can be placed and work to improve access to programs that provide prenatal and post-partum care for women who use substances and to their infants.
The RCY is also hoping to improve advocacy services for families and service providers.
“At the end of the day, I want to see fewer infants taken into care and separated from their birth mothers, beginning what is often a childhood in care,” said Bernard Richard, B.C. representative for children and youth. “Infants deserve the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding and attachment, and all children deserve to grow up in a stable family environment.”
The joint report was initiated after the B.C. Supreme Court ordered MCFD to increase a mother’s access to her infant for breastfeeding and bonding. On top of that, a provincial court ruled that MCFD had not adequately considered the supports that were available in the mother’s First Nations community to keep the family together.
B.C. Green Party critic Sonia Furstenau says the action plan should be backed up with more financial resources to support new mothers and infants.
“Today’s action plan is a step forward, however much more is needed, including funding for programs that will keep mothers and infants together,” said Furstenau.
“This announcement is focused on directives and research. What’s needed is funding to be provided so that mothers are given all the support necessary to ensure the bond between them and their infants is established and maintained.”