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Indigenous child seizures putting all families at risk: Chief

Last Updated Jun 25, 2019 at 6:38 pm PDT

Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot'in Nation is pictured at Farwell Canyon, B.C., on Oct. 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Band staff have been working with the family since the incident trying to get the child returned to her parents

A total of 188 children, 102 of whom are Indigenous, were removed from their families in B.C. last year

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) –┬áThe province taking Indigenous children away from their families is putting entire communities in danger, according to the Chief of an Interior First Nation after two band members had their newborn seized shortly after she was born.

The unidentified baby girl was born in a Kamloops hospital on June 12 and was only 90 minutes old when social workers arrived, claiming there had been a report of neglect, as first reported by APTN News. The original story reported the baby was taken by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) two days later while the mother was asleep and sedated by medical staff at the hospital.

Children being taken is still unfortunately not uncommon, according to Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse, but he says he has never heard of a case like this.

“Mothers are often afraid to go to hospitals for legitimate reasons when they have no reason to be fearful,” Alphonse says. “[The government] puts young aboriginal families at risk in other cases because young aboriginal and Indigenous families refuse to go to services for fear they might get their child apprehended for whatever reason. You take a two year old to the hospital and then they start screaming and next thing you know you got Ministry coming in and taking your child, even if you don’t drink or do drugs or anything like that. That’s kind of the environment that our people live with.”

In this case, both parents are registered members of the Tl’etinqox band but do not live in the community, according to Alphonse, who says this was the first child for both parents.

He says band staff have been working with the family since the incident trying to get the child returned to her parents. The family was scheduled for a mediation hearing Tuesday, but if the baby is not returned, a court date is set for Wednesday, Alphonse said.

The MCFD says it cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy legislation, but in an email statement wrote “We know that children thrive when they are able to be with their families, connected to their communities and their culture; and that the first few days with an infant are critical – not just for bonding, but ensuring that their needs are met, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

It does acknowledge the ministry can only remove children from their families if they are in immediate danger and no other options are available.

“Although the number of Indigenous children in care is going down, we know it is not fast enough and there is still a clear over-representation of Indigenous children in care. This is unacceptable and we’re working to change,” the statement read.

Of the 488 children who entered state care last year, either by removal or an agreement with their parents, 197 of them were under a week old, according to a report by the MCFD and Representative for Children and Youth (RCY).

Overall, the number of children taken into care, both indigenous and non-indigenous, has declined 14.6 per cent over the last three years.

“It’s unusual, it’s not a common occurrence, for a child as young as this to be removed,” RCY’s Jennifer Charlesworth says. “Typically with situations like this where there are birth alerts then there has been issues identified in advance of a child’s birth or in some cases the hospital itself would have identified and contacted the ministry. For any of us hearing the situation, we’re alarmed and we question what this is.”

Charlesworth says the two hours a day the parents have supervised visits with their daughter is not enough time.

“With an infant, a newborn like this, it’s so important for the baby and the parents to have the opportunity to bond and ensure there’s ample opportunity for them to be supported to create a positive and healthy relationship and attachment,” she said. “”So my hope would be that at the very least, there’s an increase in the amount of time that the parents and the baby can be together, whether or not it’s under supervision.”