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Children's Aid Admits Failure

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Children's Aid admits it failed Jeffrey Baldwin
'This was a collective blind spot,' executive director says


Peter Brieger, National Post
Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Catholic Children's Aid Society offered something of a mea culpa yesterday for Jeffrey Baldwin's starvation death at the hands of his grandparents.

Executive director Mary McConville said the tragedy marked a "collective blind spot" on the part of both the courts and the society.

"This tragedy has presented us with a very powerful lesson of what can go wrong," Ms. McConville said. "It was the worst outcome that can happen if you don't have the safeguards in place."

Last week, Norman Kidman and Elva Bottineau were found guilty of second-degree murder in the five-year-old boy's death, leaving many wondering why the abusive grandparents were allowed to care for their four grandchildren in the first place.

"We didn't know who we were dealing with," Ms. McConville said. "I think we would have acted very differently if we had known ... We would have said they weren't suitable parents."

The pair won custody of Jeffrey, with the consent of the society, because of allegations he was abused by his birth mother. Three of his siblings were also turned over to the care of Kidman, 53, and Bottineau, 54.

Because the child protection organization never checked its old files, it was unaware both grandparents had prior convictions for abusing their children.

Bottineau was convicted of assault causing bodily harm in the 1970 death of her infant daughter, while the kids' grandfather was convicted in 1978 of assault causing bodily harm of two of his stepchildren.

During the trial, witnesses testified that Jeffrey and his youngest sister were frequently locked in a spartan room that "reeked" of urine and feces.

Diary notes written by Bottineau suggested she favoured two of her grandchildren -- who can't be named -- while despising Jeffrey and one of his sisters, who she referred to as "little pigs."

Jeffrey's older sister testified that "everyone in the house" knew the malnourished child was going to die. Bottineau refused to take him for medical care despite repeated suggestions that she have the boy examined, court heard.

When he died in November, 2002, Jeffrey weighed just 22 pounds. Medical experts described it as one of the worst child abuse cases they had ever seen.

Yesterday, Ms. McConville said the society began mandatory background checks on relatives who take children into their care after the Baldwin case.

All prospective caregivers are now also required to undergo interviews to determine their fitness as parents, she added.

Previously, only non-relatives, such as foster parents, were checked for criminal records.

These changes are now applied province-wide.

The agency's records, some dating back to the 1920s, have also been updated to make it easier to find background information about caregivers, Ms. McConville said.

She noted Jeffrey's grandparents appeared to care for their grandchildren, actively seeking out the job of caregiver.

"This was a collective blind spot for child welfare agencies and the courts," she added.

However, the case had not been an open file since the kids were placed with their grandparents in 1998. The last time the CCAS had contact with Jeffrey and his siblings, all appeared to be healthy, she said.


Children's Aid admits it failed Jeffrey Baldwin
'This was a collective blind spot,' executive director says


Peter Brieger, National Post
Published: Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And while the case marked a failure, it is impossible for child care agencies to be "everywhere all the time," said Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies.

Even after launching 82,000 investigations last year, Ontario's 53 child-care agencies can miss some cases, so it's crucial that people report child abuse when they see it happening, Ms. Lewis said.

pbrieger@nationalpost.com
National Post 2006

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