Tikinagan backs provincial decision to end birth alerts

Tikinagan Child & Family Services supports the recent decision made by the Ontario government ceasing the practice of end birth alerts in the province – putting an end to decades of systematic discrimination, disproportionate representation, and biases toward First Nation families and communities. 

“We support the government’s decision to cease the practice of birth alerts in Ontario, knowing that birth alerts can have negative impacts and unintended consequences for women, children, families, and our communities,” said Thelma Morris, Executive Director of Tikinagan Child & Family Services. “We recognize that in most cases, birth alerts do not support our goal of protecting children while supporting families to stay together. Every new mother and father need to be treated with respect, not negatively impacted because of an alert that might result in judgement with discriminatory measures. 

“This issue speaks to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but it goes further back as far as the 60s Scoop and other historical dissemination our culture, traditions, and rights as First Nations. Our traditions used to be that birthing at home was the norm but this was taken away from our people. Even the use of a tikinagan, wrapping a child, was at one time taken away from us. The ceasing of birth alerts is just a start.” 

Morris added that there is a lack of understanding in urban hospital settings that take a mainstream approach and have failed to meet the needs of First Nation mothers. 

Tikinagan is actively working to strengthen relationships and improve approaches in urban hospitals who serve families from the 30 First Nations through promotion and training related to the Tikinagan service model Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, everyone working together to raise our children. Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin care embraces the inherent jurisdiction of First Nations to make decisions for children in need of protection. One of Tikinagan’s core values is respect, demonstrated through a non-judgmental attitude, communication, and recognition of the unique strengths of families and communities.

Explained Morris: “At Tikinagan, we need to respect and honour the traditions and customs of First Nations that are already in place by following the First Nations’ lead when welcoming new children into their families and communities. We can take a proactive approach and ensure supports are in place for the families in order to preserve the family unity.”

In early 2020 the Ontario government undertook a process to engage key stakeholders to learn more about the birth alerts practice in Ontario. The issue was raised in the context of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which called on provincial and territorial governments to immediately end the practice of “birth alerts” or “hospital alerts” as they disproportionately impact Indigenous women. 

To inform its decision making and to better understand the current intent, impact, and unintended consequences of birth alerts on women, children, families and communities, The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services held a series of meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous service leaders, communities and stakeholders. Tikinagan was part of those conversations. 

“This is a very personal issue to our communities and we were privileged to represent the families from our 30 First Nations on this issue,” said Morris.

The new policy directive came into effect July 13, 2020 and advises children’s aid societies to: 

  • Cease the practice of birth alerts by October 15, 2020. 
  • Issue a letter to local hospitals, pre- and post-natal service providers, and other relevant healthcare practitioners advising them of the direction provided in this policy directive, inviting them to meet to facilitate collaborative approaches to working with expectant parents, and to remind them of their duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect to a child to their local children’s aid society. 
  • Confirm in writing to the ministry that it has implemented the requirements in the directive by October 31, 2020.