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Failure to Protect

October 13, 2005 permalink

The assessments used by social workers are not for evaluating clients, but are subjective tools that can be used to vilify or glorify a client at will. In the current case when CCAS wanted to remove children from Elva Bottineau, then characterized her as criminal and mentally defective. But when it became burdensome to supervise her care of her grandson, they called her a well-meaning and good parent.

When a parent leaves a child in a dangerous environment it is a legal misdeed called "failure to protect" that can result in loss of children or jail time. But when Children's Aid does the same thing, it is an oversight. Will CCAS be asking for more money soon to correct their oversight?



Catholic Children's Aid in Toronto ignored abuse warnings, papers show

By CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD, Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto ignored decades of dire warnings -- including an eerie report of another hungry little boy who was tied to a bed with a dog chain -- about the grandparents now accused of starving Jeffrey Baldwin to death.

It was amid a cacophony of alarms that the agency consented to the grandparents getting legal custody of Jeffrey and his three young siblings in three separate proceedings from 1994 through 1999.

The information is contained in an affidavit from an agency worker and paints an utterly searing portrait of Elva Bottineau, Jeffrey's 54-year-old grandmother, as the product of a violent and horrific childhood who went on to be convicted as a teenage mom in the death of her own baby daughter and who at least twice was assessed by psychiatrists as being in the "mentally defective" or "well below average" intellectual range.

The worker, Jennifer Maryk, is a senior child protection worker with the CCAS who conducted a review of the agency's own extensive files as part of family court proceedings after the Nov. 30, 2002, death of Jeffrey.

Ms. Bottineau and her husband, Norman Kidman, now 53, are charged with first-degree murder in Jeffrey's death from pneumonia and septic shock, the two coming as a fatal one-two punch that overwhelmed any feeble resources the little boy had left after what experts have testified here was months, even years, of chronic starvation.

Mr. Justice David Watt of Ontario Superior Court has also heard extensive evidence about the appalling conditions in which Jeffrey, who was not quite 6 when he died, and his seven-year-old sister lived in their grandparents' east Toronto house -- the two youngsters locked in a fetid, unheated bedroom for long periods, surrounded by their own feces and urine and left so thirsty they sometimes drank from the toilet.

But what Ms. Maryk's affidavit, made an exhibit yesterday at the murder trial, describes, albeit in bare-bones detail, is a mirror image of the children's deprivation more than two decades earlier -- the story of the other hungry little boy and his seven-year-old sister.

They were Ms. Bottineau's children by a previous relationship with an abusive and violent alcoholic whom she left for Mr. Kidman.

It is these two whom Mr. Kidman was convicted of assaulting on Dec. 29, 1978, a result of which the youngsters were later made wards of the Crown. Mr. Kidman, like Ms. Bottineau before him, did no jail time.

It is this little boy who was described in a 1978 psychological assessment as being always so "ravenous" he "ate without chewing" and who was so "physically and emotionally abused" his development was "seriously impaired"; it is his sister who was described outright as "a battered child . . . covered in bruises."

Both youngsters were said to be "barely coping with life emotionally," both complained about a "lack of food" in the home, both disclosed having been tied up and put in an inverted garbage can, and both showed disturbing and unusually "sexualized" behaviour.

Yet just five years after these children had been apprehended by the CCAS, Ms. Maryk's notes show, Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman had had three daughters together, and despite a psychologist finding that she appeared "at times to be a danger to herself and to others" and raising "concerns about the potential risk" to the couple's daughters, they remained with them at home.

While the CCAS maintained various "supervision orders" on the family, meaning its workers were entitled by law to visit the house and monitor the children's well-being, inexplicably the same couple who were portrayed just a short time before as woefully unfit -- not to mention criminally convicted in a death and assaults on children -- were now miraculously described in agency files as "well-meaning and good parents."

In fact, shockingly, by April of 1983 -- just five years after Mr. Kidman pleaded guilty to abusing Ms. Bottineau's children by the other man and amid the well-documented concerns of the psychologist -- the CCAS had approved of Ms. Bottineau working as a home-care provider.

Ms. Maryk's review of the files reveals that the CCAS found the family "doing well" and notes that, "Further, Ms. Bottineau was working as a home child care provider with the support of the Society."

With the Bottineau-Kidman daughters then under the age of 10, the only logical inference would appear to be that the CCAS had approved Ms. Bottineau as a care provider for other people's children or for its own young troubled clients.

On its face, that would appear to contradict how agency executive-director Mary McConnville characterized Jeffrey's death two years ago - that it was, in effect, an appalling mistake, but a one-time error resulting from a policy vacuum in the area of "kinship" care.

Ms. Bottineau's and Mr. Kidman's criminal convictions have been a matter of public record since shortly after Jeffrey's death, with Ms. McConnville confirming that the agency had failed to check its own records before agreeing to the grandparents' gaining custody of Jeffrey and his siblings.

But Ms. McConnville said at the time that the failure occurred because the CCAS then didn't have a policy requiring its staff to check the backgrounds of relatives seeking custody of children considered at risk with their own parents -- so-called "kinship care" cases -- as was the case with the four offspring of their daughter Yvonne Kidman and her husband Richard Baldwin.

Indeed, what is stunning even in Ms. Maryk's brief review of more than five decades of various child-welfare agency involvement - it begins with Ms. Bottineau's own parents, who had 16 children - is the staggering amount of information the CCAS appeared to have on the maternal family and yet which appears to have influenced its vital decisions only occasionally.

As Ms. Maryk's affidavit notes, in addition to her mental handicaps, Ms. Bottineau suffered from at least two significant bouts of depression, one in 1973, another in 1982. For decades, she appears to have made virtually no effort to mask her dislike and contempt of CCAS workers, once appearing in a 1979 interview, at which she denied exposing the two youngsters the agency apprehended to sexualized behaviours, wearing a T-shirt which said "SEX INSTRUCTOR" across the front.

She was variously described as evasive, hostile, unreliable, verbally combative, prone to mood swings and incapable of coping with her children's demands.

Mr. Kidman, meanwhile, was deemed the great white hope of the pair - capable of becoming a good parent - despite his acknowledged assault of Ms. Bottineau's children by the other man and being found by a psychologist to be a confused, weak, insecure and anxious fellow. While he won praise for accepting "partial responsibility" for his physical assaults on the two children, he also "placed partial blame" on the youngsters.

The CCAS actually closed its file on the Bottineau-Kidman family in 1984, but reopened it months later amid fresh complaints, one, Ms. Maryk's affidavit notes, from an unidentified mother who came to the agency with "concerns about the substitute caregiver to her daughter. The caregiver was identified as Ms. Bottineau."

This complaint alleged sexual abuse by Mr. Kidman, but when the child failed to make any disclosures to a worker, and Mr. Kidman denied the allegation, the CCAS worker "concluded the referral source was unreliable" and the file was again closed in 1986.

It was reopened again in 2000, when the Toronto Children's Aid Society made a referral to the CCAS about another complaint. The complainant retracted the allegation, Mr. Kidman and Ms. Bottineau denied it, and the worker concluded "the children presented very well and appeared well bonded" with their grandparents, and on Sept. 12, 2000, the agency closed its file yet again.

One of those well-bonded children was Jeffrey, who died just two years later.