Indigenous leaders, provincial and territorial leaders and advocates are heading to Ottawa next week for an emergency meeting on child welfare where the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in care will be at the forefront of the conversations.
Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott called for the meeting last November. In a letter sent to her provincial and territorial counterparts she said the rate of Indigenous kids apprehended in Canada was the highest in the world.
Manitoba has the highest rate of newborn apprehensions in all of Canada
In Manitoba apprehension rates are the highest in the country. It is estimated a newborn child is apprehended every day.
The situation has become so dire one expectant mother has decided to give birth in secret.
“I’m feeling that I have to protect this birth from people who have the potential to sever my bond with my child,” said the woman.
Sitting in her home in Winnipeg she showed APTN News her home birthing kit. She cannot be identified because her teenage daughter is currently a ward of the province.
Two years ago she gave birth to another child in hospital. She said at the time she was forced to fill out paperwork detailing her prior involvement with Child and Family Services along with her income status.
She now worries her involvement will serve as a red flag.
“Now I’m sitting here two years later and I’m going to have another baby and I don’t want to be in that building when it happens because I’m afraid they’re not going to let me leave,” she said.
First Nations Family Advocate Cora Morgan isn’t surprised to hear of this woman’s plan.
“We hear it every day because you know Manitoba has the highest rate of newborn apprehensions in all of Canada,” said Morgan.
Manitoba also has the highest number of Indigenous kids in care. According to the province there are approximately 11,000 kids in care with 90 per cent of those being Indigenous.
These numbers will be the focus of the emergency two-day meeting next week. The meeting is set to take place on Jan. 25 and 26.
In a release Minister Philpott’s office said the goal of the meeting is to identify shared priorities and a path forward in reforming Indigenous child and family services with distinctions based approaches to put the needs of children and families first.
Morgan said she hopes to see some significant changes to the child welfare system after next week’s meeting.
“After 150 years of the theft of our children that there is a meaningful commitment to First Nations asserting jurisdiction over children and families,” she said.
“And that we have opportunities and resources to be able to do prevention at the community level outside of our current system.”
The Manitoba government has recently implemented a reform on the child welfare system.
We have opportunities and resources to be able to do prevention at the community level
Minister of Families Scott Fielding said the province recognizes changes must be made to the system.
“We’ve got a big problem. That’s why we’re taking it head on as a government,” said Fielding.
The new reform will see incentives and subsidies for foster parents who wish to become permanent guardians.
The province also formed a seven-person committee in December to review the current legislature and suggest changes that could be made to address the staggering number of kids in care.
But the mother giving birth in secret says more needs to be done.
“I think these changes are going to impact how the system operates and how foster families operate,” she said. “And that’s not enough.”