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EDITORIAL: Sad legacy continues of taking Indigenous children from their parents

A row of empty baby beds in the maternity ward of a hospital. - 123rf.com
An Indigenous couple in Kamloops, B.C. have been fighting social services and medical staff to have their baby returned to them . - 123rf.com - Contributed

New mothers anywhere in this country can likely relate to the feelings of apprehension and anxiety that come along with the joy and elation of child birth.

So, on top of that, imagine this scenario. Rather than nurses coming to take the newborn to the hospital’s nursery for a checkup, it’s a social worker who has come to take the baby into foster care for reasons largely unknown to the parents.

That’s the nightmare scenario an Indigenous couple in Kamloops, B.C. faced earlier this month, just 90 minutes after the birth of their first child, a girl referred to in media reports only as “Baby H.”

An hour and a half after the birth, social workers informed the new parents that they’d received a report of neglect from hospital staff and attempted to take the baby as the mother – who had undergone a C-section delivery – was asleep under a sedative administered by medical professionals.

The maternal grandmother happened to be in the room at the time and managed to fend off the social workers for a short time. Still, the workers returned two days later and did succeed in taking the child.

As of this writing, Baby H is two weeks old and has been in foster care for all but two days of her young life.

In a recording obtained by APTN, social workers are heard telling the family that medical staff at the hospital reported the baby was being neglected.

“(Mom) can’t even be roused for this meeting because she’s so out of it,” the social worker says on the recording. The baby’s father replies that mom is “out of it” because of the prescription medication she was given from her doctor.

That the family is Indigenous is not a coincidence. Before and since the Baby H case, reports have emerged that show Indigenous families are right to fear when it comes to their reproductive health.

In many of the cases, social workers are contacted based on the hunches of medical staff or even so-called “birth alerts” from members of the public who call child protective services about an infant’s welfare before it’s even born, based on preconceived and often racist notions about the parents.

How can someone on the street, a neighbour, medical staff or social workers determine whether a family is fit to parent when they don’t even give them a chance to do so? Guilty until proven innocent is not how our court system works, so why apply that logic to parenting?

The true cost reflects on everyone: it robs parents of crucial bonding time with their babies and burdens them with lengthy, costly and unnecessary court proceedings just to earn the right to parent their children. This ultimately costs us as taxpayers, along with the court’s time and resources.

We know all too well in Canada the results of separating Indigenous children from their families without forethought or regard. Let’s not have this shameful and discriminatory practice in health care continue to add to that sad legacy.

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