REGINA -- The Saskatchewan government announced on Monday it will put an end to birth alerts at the beginning of February.

The practice saw pregnant women – mostly First Nations – flagged as unfit to care for their newborns before giving birth. This allowed the Ministry of Social Services to be notified when the baby was born, which could lead to the newborn’s apprehension.

Minister of Social Services Lori Carr said going forward, the ministry will be working with community partners to find ways to better support expecting parents. 

“Our ultimate goal is to work a lot closer with our community-based organizations, because sometimes these mothers already have an existing relationship with them, and try to be a little more proactive at the front end so that something like that doesn’t happen within a hospital setting,” said Carr. 

In 2020, there were 76 birth alerts issued in Saskatchewan – 53 of those mothers were Indigenous. In the same year, there were 98 newborns apprehended by the province. 

The number of birth alerts issued in 2020 was significantly lower than previous years; there were 150 in 2016, 157 in 2017 and 2018, and 146 in 2019. 

Jolene Creely is an Indigenous birth support worker. She – like most new moms – did not receive a visit from social services. However, she was cautioned by others that it could happen. 

“When I was expecting my child…these mothers were warning me that after you have your baby a social worker might come and ask you questions. Be prepared for these questions because they’re kind of hard hitting,” said Creely.

According to a statement, the province’s decision to end birth alerts is in line with the recommendations from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry – which called for “an immediate end to the practice of targeting and apprehending infants (hospital alerts or birth alerts) from Indigenous mothers right after they give birth.”

First Nations leaders have been calling for an end to the practice for years. National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations took to Twitter to urge other provinces to work with Indigenous leaders to stop issuing birth alerts. 

“Ending birth alerts requires investments in prevention to support and strengthen First Nations families,” wrote Bellegarde. “Prevention must be grounded in First Nations culture, and must serve families at all stages of life – from prenatal, to birth, to childhood and into adulthood.” 

Bellegarde called Saskatchewan’s decision “timely” and said ending birth alerts is only one step in “reforming a proven discriminatory system that has harmed generations of First Nations children.”

Apprehension of newborns can still take place where professionals deem it necessary to protect a child.

Some caution that the end of birth alerts may only be symbolic unless adequate supports are in place to help families at risk. 

“I think [they need to] implement a program that is really family-centred, where the mother has a support system even after leaving the hospital, that this mother is cared for in the proper way,” said Creely.