In Manitoba, First Nations infants have ‘staggering’ rate of involvement with Child and Family Services, study finds

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In Manitoba, First Nations infants have ‘staggering’ rate of involvement with Child and Family Services, study finds

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First Nations infants have an exceptionally high rate of contact with Child and Family Services (CFS) compared to other Manitoba infants, a study jointly led by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO) and University of Manitoba researchers has found.

The study was published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect. The researchers analyzed de-identified (anonymous) government health and social service data that is stored in the Population Research Data Repository at UM’s Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.

They studied the 20-year period from 1998 to 2019, tracking data for more than 47,000 First Nations infants and more than 169,000 non-First Nations infants from birth to age five. An infant was defined as a child under the age of one year.

The results revealed that:

  • About 36% of First Nations infants had an open CFS file (a rate more than four times higher than for non-First Nations infants).
  • About 9% of First Nations infants experienced placement in CFS custody (a rate nearly seven times higher than for non-First Nations infants).
  • Removal (apprehension) of a newborn from its parents at birth was about six times more common for First Nations newborns than for non-First Nations newborns.
  • About 5% of First Nations infants experienced legal termination of parental rights before turning five years old (a rate nearly eight times higher than for non-First Nations infants).
  • The rate of CFS contact increased the fastest among First Nations infants, growing by 22% over the study period, versus rising by 2% among non-First Nations infants.

“We knew before the study that First Nations children and families face vastly disproportionate involvement with Child and Family Services,” said Dr. Kathleen Kenny, a postdoctoral fellow in community health sciences at the Max Rady College of Medicine, who led the study.

“We also knew that Manitoba has the highest rate of child removal and out-of-home placement in Canada—in fact, one of the highest in the world. Our study is the first to quantify the staggering rate of CFS involvement among First Nations infants at the whole-population level and show how it has increased. Our results support calls to develop First Nations-led services to address this extreme inequity.”

Researchers developed the study in consultation with representatives from the First Nations government, First Nations-led organizations, organizations serving First Nations families, clinical and policy experts, and parents and grandparents affected by CFS.

“It is heartbreaking to learn of the high rate of involvement of First Nations infants with the CFS system,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the AMC. “The first year of life is so critical in terms of the bonds built between parents and their children. What is taking place that First Nation babies are being exposed to government involvement within hours, days and weeks of being born?

“This study highlights the urgent need for culturally sensitive solutions that prioritize the well-being and preservation of First Nation families. We must work together to address the root causes of this concerning trend and ensure that First Nation children are supported, nurtured and empowered to thrive in safe and loving environments.”

Chief Betsy Kennedy of War Lake First Nation emphasizes that when infants are apprehended, it results in profound and irreparable losses in bonding and attachment. “This not only disrupts the infants’ developmental stages but also severs their ties to ancestral lands, cultural heritage, First Nations language and collective nationhood—everything that nurtures identity in a person.”

Chief Kennedy, who is also chair of the AMC Women’s Council that oversees the AMC-FNFAO, says this act of forced removal has been rightfully recognized as a dire crisis by First Nations leaders and has garnered significant international attention as a critical human rights issue.

The researchers’ joint recommendations include:

  • End the practice of infant apprehension. Fund First Nations-led models that support the preservation of family and cultural bonds. For example, invest in First Nations-led family reunification homes.
  • Empower First Nations-led customary systems of care so that children grow up connected to their Nation and culture.
  • Establish community-based, supportive spaces outside of CFS where families in crisis can be referred as a first-line strategy to strengthen families and keep them intact.

More information:
Kathleen S. Kenny et al, Infant rates of child protective services contact and termination of parental rights by first nations status from 1998 to 2019: An example of intergenerational transmission of colonial harm, Child Abuse & Neglect (2024). DOI: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2024.106760

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University of Manitoba


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In Manitoba, First Nations infants have ‘staggering’ rate of involvement with Child and Family Services, study finds (2024, June 13)
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