N.S. called on to do more to help vulnerable pregnant women after ending birth alerts

image.jpg

An advocacy group on Wednesday said Nova Scotia's new policy for vulnerable families could be "set up to fail," a day after the government said it would stop the practice of birth alerts.

The government said Tuesday child welfare services would stop alerting hospital staff about at-risk mothers and newborns who potentially needed protection, and it said it would instead appoint a support co-ordinator for vulnerable families.

On Wednesday, Martha Paynter with Wellness Within, a group that helps pregnant women in the justice system and criminalized pregnant transgender and nonbinary people, said the single co-ordinator wasn't enough.

"I think it's highly unlikely that a single person will be able to handle the volume across the entire province," Paynter said in an interview. "I'm concerned that this new system is set up to fail."

Nova Scotia decided to end birth alerts because it said the practice disproportionately affected people of colour and Indigenous women. Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said in a statement Tuesday that the government would change the policy to put a stronger focus on pairing expectant families with the appropriate support to ensure the safety and care of children.

Paynter said the government must create a system that respects families' cultures.

Lana MacLean, a clinical social worker in Nova Scotia, said she has taken part in consultations with the government about the problems with the birth alert system.

"It was a colonial approach that made Black and Aboriginal families much more vulnerable so early in the child welfare system," MacLean said in an interview Wednesday.

The government should tackle the problems of at-risk families through a culturally sensitive lens, she added. "I'm glad that there's no longer birth alerts," MacLean said. "The question is, how do we look at providing appropriate support at appropriate and meaningful times?"

Paynter called the change a "necessary step," adding that ending birth alerts was a recommendation in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That commission called the alerts "racist and discriminatory and a gross violation of the rights of the child, the mother, and the community."

She added, however, that while the new system is a necessary step, it should still be scrutinized.

The government says it issued 80 birth alerts in 2020-21, down from 95 alerts in 2020-19 and 100 alerts in 2018-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.