Since 2013, the number of newborns having to be apprehended by social services has increased annually, growing from 104 in 2013 to 148 in 2017.
The Opposition NDP raised the issue in question period, asking what the province is doing to reverse this upward trend.
“Frankly, I think we should be doing absolutely everything we can to ensure we have no apprehensions,” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.
Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said it is worrying that the rate of child apprehensions is rising. Earlier this year, the budget for social services was increased by $20 million to account for increased demand of child services.
As for newborns having to be taken into care, Merriman said there are a variety of factors that make it not safe for a child to be in the home and the government is monitoring this for trends.
“Nothing that is concrete right now, but the landscape, certainly there’s an increase of mental health and addictions that we’re seeing within social services,” Merriman said. “A lot of our clients and our families are experiencing some difficult times.”
The number of children with apprehended status has also grown consistently since 2014. The amount of children in care has gone from 2,880 to 3,279 between June 30, 2014 and June 30, 2018 according to ministry documents.
Merriman said the province has a number of in-home supports designed to keep families together, noting that apprehension is a final resort when a child’s safety is in danger due to their home life.
The minister added that work is being done with First Nations communities and the Metis Nation. This includes having 11 foster homes in First Nations communities, which take care of 140 to 150 children.
The ministry has been undergoing consultation to overhaul kids in care practices since 2012. This is part of a three-phase plan to improve child and family services.
The first phase was described as primarily housekeeping by Merriman and is complete.
Phases two and three deal with more substantial change and fine-tuning those changes. Merriman said they are in the consultation for phase three at the moment.
“The concern I have with moving too fast is our client’s issues are changing, they’re evolving,” Merriman said. “The issues that we’re facing in Saskatchewan right now are way different than they were in 2012, so we’re continually having to adapt. But I do want to be able to close this off and get this done in the near future.”
The minister added that he hopes to be able to make an announcement on the next steps in the first couple months of next year.
For changes he would like to see, Meili said an independent appeal process for families that have children apprehended.
Going back to his time as a family doctor, Meili referenced a family that had a newborn baby taken by social services due to drug issues in the family. Meili acted as an advocate for the family, and that helped them to be reunited.
With mental health and addictions being cited as a reason for increasing apprehensions, Meili said it points to other services provided by the government needing extra care.
“Our goal should be zero apprehensions. Anytime we’re separating a baby from their mother in those early days, is a failure on the part of our whole province,” Meili said.