Not all important government decisions make the front page. Some decisions may only affect a limited number of people but for those people, the change can be life altering.
That’s what happened with the practice of “birth alerts.”
A birth alert was a notice sent by a children’s aid society to a hospital when they thought a newborn might be in need of protection. The child would be taken from the mother and placed in care.
The issue was that birth alerts were most often issued for racialized mothers. And the overwhelming majority were for indigenous mothers.
I learned about this not long after taking office. An indigenous woman had come to our office looking for help with a family matter. As we asked her about the situation, we learned about the birth alert system.
I can understand if there’s an addiction or mental health issue. But what we had was a system that birth alerts would be triggered if the mother was from a particular background or address, regardless of whether she had any issues or not.
About 230 kids a year would be taken into care without their mother ever actually have done anything wrong, other than having grown up in the wrong household.
Not long after, we organized a meeting with children’s aid officials from the Six Nations Territory and MPP Jill Dunlop, who was then the minister of women’s and children’s issues.
She heard about these birth alerts, which were almost exclusively happening to Indigenous women.
Jill said: “I don’t care what I have to do, I’m going to get rid of these.”
A few months later, they were gone.
Now those young mothers are treated like anyone else. They won’t be walking into a hospital with a marker on them saying they’re trouble.
The result is that there is now more emphasis on proactive care and working with families and communities to prepare plans that support parents of newborns and keep families together.
It’s one of those things that never make huge headlines but will significantly change the lives of several hundred people each and every year.
Those are the kinds of decisions that stay with you.