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Newborn apprehensions in line with previous years after birth alerts end in Saskatchewan

Click to play video: 'Newborn apprehensions in line with previous years after birth alerts end in Saskatchewan' Newborn apprehensions in line with previous years after birth alerts end in Saskatchewan
WATCH: The end of birth alerts was widely celebrated in Saskatchewan, but community leaders say much more work needs to be done based on new numbers on infant apprehensions – May 4, 2021

Newborn babies are being taken into government care at a similar rate to previous years, after Saskatchewan axed birth alerts in February.

From Jan. 1 to Mar. 31, 21 babies under 30-days-old were apprehended, according to Saskatchewan’s social services ministry. During the same period in 2020 and 2019, 23 and 22 infants were taken into care, respectively.

Read more: Saskatchewan ending birth alerts Feb. 1

The head of a home for at-risk moms said it’s no surprise infant apprehensions haven’t dropped more significantly since birth alerts ended.

“[Birth alerts are] really the first layer of the onion in… peeling back some of those systemic barriers that marginalized individuals face in our healthcare and social service systems,” said Jamesy Patrick, interim executive director for Sanctum Care Group in Saskatoon.
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Saskatchewan families were subjected to birth alerts for decades, when social services or health care staff flagged expectant mothers as “at-risk.” Indigenous families were disproportionately affected, with 53 of the 76 alerts issued last year for Indigenous parents, the province said.

On many occasions, birth alerts resulted in newborn babies being taken into government care.

Social services minister Lori Carr directed the province to discontinue birth alerts last December, with a Feb. 1 end date. The ministry said two birth alerts were issued in 2021, prior to the discontinuation of the practice.

Ending birth alerts was a positive first step, Patrick said, but the province must invest in more services that address housing insecurity, substance abuse and mental illness.

Read more: Birth alerts have been axed in Saskatchewan, but what comes next?

“When you wrap support around… a mom who is in pregnancy who is experiencing some of those challenges, we’re going to have better health outcomes for that mom and that baby,” she said.

Expectant parents must feel safe when accessing health care and support services, said Central Urban Métis Federation Inc. (CUMFI) president Shirley Isbister.

“Working with moms ahead of time while they’re carrying a baby is definitely going to be needed,” she said.

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“The challenge is that sometimes when people need it, they’re afraid to ask for help because they’re afraid that the baby will be apprehended.”

Children are only taken into care as a last resort, the social services ministry said.

“This can include a variety of factors like an infant’s risk of exposure to physical or sexual violence, or if the infant has high medical needs from exposure to drugs and alcohol or lack of prenatal care and meeting those needs has overwhelmed parents who were already in crisis,” Tobie Eberhardt, assistant deputy minister of child and family programs, said in an emailed statement.

In the latest budget, the province earmarked a record $42.6 million in support services for vulnerable families. The ministry said several new projects are in the works to develop additional supported living programs for vulnerable moms and their babies.

Sanctum Care Group received $740,000 to create prenatal outreach teams in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Regina.

The teams of roughly three people will be operational within the next few months, Patrick said. They’ll connect expectant parents to health care and social supports.

“We don’t have to wait until we get to that hospital point where we’re having more… reactive interventions take place,” Patrick said.

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“Children who were in care often end up with children in care. And so we really need to do this work to stop that cycle.” 

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