WINNIPEG — A study assessing a Manitoba alcohol rehabilitation program indicates participants are more likely to have their babies taken from them at birth than those who aren't seeking help.
The study by researchers at the University of Manitoba also suggests that being in the three-year program helped women regain their children in the long run.
It found 25 per cent of infants born to 226 women in the government's InSight program were seized by Child and Family Services within 72 hours of birth compared with four per cent in a comparison group with similar issues.
The apprehension rate remained the same for participants who completed the alcohol addiction program, which is aimed at reducing the prevalence of drinking during pregnancy and the number of children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Researcher Chelsea Ruth said it's not clear why the apprehension rate was higher for rehab participants, who had no access to social services, had a history of domestic violence and struggled with mental-health issues.
"That may have happened because the children were not safe to be taken home by their mothers," she said Wednesday. "It's also possible that it did happen through inappropriate stigmatization."
Cora Morgan, the province's First Nations children's advocate, said she worries parents will be deterred from seeking help if they risk losing their children.
She said she was recently approached by a mother who sought help for addiction issues.
"The organization she went to for help turned around and called CFS," Morgan said. "Now, CFS is pursuing apprehension of her children.
"You have parents who are going out and trying to get support and, rather than getting the support they need, it amounts to their children being apprehended."
The study noted the program appeared to help those who had older children in care — the number of children in care fell from 81 per cent before the program to 64 per cent afterwards.
"Lower rates of having children taken into care overall may represent InSight participants' increased ability to parent safely," the study said.
It didn't specifically focus on child welfare so the issue requires more investigation, Ruth said.
The study found the mentoring program helped women get access to crucial social services and contraception while cutting down on substance abuse. But it found participants had trouble maintaining the gains once they left the program.
Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said programs such as InSight help families in the long run. Women who admit they need help should be supported, she said.
"A person is involved in a program because they are struggling with an issue and, in this case, it's an addiction," Irvin-Ross said. "We know that it inhibits your ability to parent.
"Temporarily, a child may have to be placed into care or with a family member because there is a safety concern."
The goal is to reunite a child with its mother as soon as possible, she added.
Manitoba has been criticized recently for apprehending an average of one newborn baby a day.
Critics say the child-welfare system is too quick to seize babies from the hospital, which robs them of important bonding time with their mothers and puts the onus on parents to prove they are worthy. The province has argued that apprehensions are not taken lightly and are done in the best interests of the child.
Manitoba has one of the highest rates in Canada of children in care at 11,000. The vast majority are aboriginal.
Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press