Indigenous woman plans to deliver baby in secret over foster care fears
Ottawa is preparing for an emergency meeting of Indigenous leaders, provincial and territorial governments, child-welfare agencies and advocacy groups next week to address the staggering overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care.
Meanwhile in Winnipeg, an Indigenous woman is preparing a home birthing kit. She’s afraid a trip to the hospital will see her child added to the nearly 11,000 in that province’s Child and Family Services system. Eighty-nine per cent of them are Indigenous, according to a report by the province last year.
The 41-year-old woman, whose identity is being withheld because she has a daughter who is a ward of the province, plans to give birth to this child in secret. It’s a decision informed by what happened when she delivered her daughter in hospital two years ago.
She recalls being handed a form and told to fill it out while still in labour. The questions, she said, ranged from annual income, to mental health, to what social assistance she may be receiving, to any prior connections to Manitoba Child and Family Services.
“It felt like they wanted to know these things so that they could intervene at some point if it was necessary,” she told CTV News. “Now, I’m sitting here two years later and I’m going to have another baby, and don’t want to be in that building when it happens. I’m afraid they are not going to let me leave with him. No mom should feel like that.”
For this expecting mother, the chronic separation of Indigenous children and their families continues Canada’s long tradition of injustice towards First Nations people.
“It started with residential schools and it carried over into the 1960s scoop,” she said. “Now we are in the millennium scoop.”
That sentiment resonates with Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who called for the emergency meeting late last year. In a letter to her provincial and territorial counterparts, she said the rate at which Canada is apprehending Indigenous children is among the highest in the world, and compared the current situation to the horrors of the residential school system era.
Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding is scheduled to attend next week’s two-day summit. The province unveiled its proposed child welfare reform in October. Fielding has met with some of Manitoba chiefs to discuss the way forward and plans to continue that dialogue.
“We’ve got a big problem. That’s why we’re taking it on, head on, as a government,” he said. “We’re trying to fix it.”
As child welfare is a provincial responsibility, Fielding is interested in what role the federal government is considering.
Philpott has promised more money in the next federal budget for First Nations child welfare services on reserves, but stopped short of offering a precise figure.
Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs First Nations family advocate, said addressing ways in which Indigenous people have been underserved by the province’s troubled child-welfare system is long overdue.
“Overall in Canada there has been a decrease in children in child welfare. In Manitoba, we continually grow. Even though they are reducing in other provinces, we are filling up those spaces plus more,” she said.
Morgan wants to see Indigenous families placed at the front of the line when it comes placing foster children.
The expecting mother said she plans to register her newborn child with the province. But she does not hold out much hope that conditions can be improved with policy tweaks and extra money from Ottawa.
“I’ve always said the system needs a fundamental reconstruction,” she said. “I’m thinking about this from a mother’s perspective, to protect her child at all costs.”
With a report from CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon