First Nations Infants Face Alarming Rates of Child and Family Services Involvement in Manitoba

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WINNIPEG – National Indigenous News – A recent study reveals that First Nations infants in Manitoba have an exceptionally high rate of involvement with Child and Family Services (CFS) compared to other infants in the province. The research, led by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO) and the University of Manitoba, was published in the international journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

Analyzing de-identified government health and social service data from the Population Research Data Repository at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, researchers examined a 20-year period from 1998 to 2019. The study included data for over 47,000 First Nations infants and more than 169,000 non-First Nations infants from birth to age five.

Key findings include:

  • Approximately 36% of First Nations infants had an open CFS file, a rate over four times higher than that of non-First Nations infants.
  • Around 9% of First Nations infants were placed in CFS custody, nearly seven times the rate for non-First Nations infants.
  • First Nations newborns were about six times more likely to be apprehended at birth compared to non-First Nations newborns.
  • About 5% of First Nations infants experienced legal termination of parental rights before age five, nearly eight times higher than for non-First Nations infants.
  • The rate of CFS contact for First Nations infants increased by 22% over the study period, compared to a 2% rise among non-First Nations infants.

Dr. Kathleen Kenny, the study’s lead researcher, noted, “Our study quantifies the staggering rate of CFS involvement among First Nations infants and underscores the need for First Nations-led services to address this extreme inequity.”

The research was conducted with input from First Nations government representatives, organizations serving First Nations families, policy experts, and affected parents and grandparents.

Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the AMC emphasized the critical nature of the first year of life for parent-child bonding and highlighted the urgent need for culturally sensitive solutions. Chief Betsy Kennedy of War Lake First Nation pointed out the profound losses in bonding, cultural heritage, and identity when infants are apprehended.

The researchers recommend:

  1. Ending infant apprehension practices and funding First Nations-led models that support family preservation.
  2. Empowering First Nations-led customary systems of care to ensure children remain connected to their Nation and culture.
  3. Establishing community-based, supportive spaces outside of CFS for families in crisis.

 

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