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CAS Returned Kids Twice

October 18, 2006 permalink

The Campione tragedy is the lead story in today's Toronto Star. From these stories, especially the second, it appears the press is finally recognizing that fathers have a role other than wife beater and child abuser.



CAS returned kids

Barrie family's file opened

BARRIE—The Children's Aid Society was twice alerted to the mental problems suffered by a Barrie mother accused of killing her two preschoolers, but only removed them from her custody temporarily during hospital stays, newly released court documents show.

The Simcoe County Children's Aid Society was first alerted to the problems last October, after Frances Elaine Campione left daughters Serena, 3, and Sophia, 1, with family and checked herself into a hospital for psychiatric care, according to an affidavit filed by the girls' paternal grandfather, Diego Campione.

A year later — after Elaine had to forgo caring for her children twice in a seven-month period in order to get treatment — the girls were found dead in her Barrie apartment. Questions about the Children's Aid's involvement in the case were raised immediately following the deaths. Those questions were heightened yesterday when a family court file was opened to the public, revealing a family that has been battling severe troubles for years.

In a sworn statement, Diego says Elaine appeared unexpectedly at his Woodbridge home last October with his grandchildren "because she could not take care of them."

Four months earlier, the mother took custody of the girls after a blow-out with her husband, Leo Campione, which resulted in her fleeing their Bradford home for a shelter. Afterward, Leo was criminally charged with several counts of assault, including one against his eldest daughter, who was 22 months old at the time of the incident; a restraining order preventing him from seeing his family was imposed.

He and his parents had little contact with the children until Elaine showed up at their family home.

"Elaine's behaviour was strange and disturbing ... She was incoherent. She stated that she wanted us to take care of the children and not let them forget their mother ... She stated that someone wanted to kill her," Diego's statement says.

At the hospital, a nurse told Diego "Elaine was in very bad shape mentally and at a stage where she might have harmed herself and the children." Children's Aid was notified of the situation and Diego and his wife Anna were granted temporary custody of their grandchildren, the documents say.

However, the girls were returned to their mother in Barrie a week later when she was released, court documents say.

Seven months later, the situation repeated itself.

The children stayed with the elder Campiones until July 9 of this year "when Elaine's doctor stated that she was no longer a risk to the children," Diego's affidavit says.

Elaine has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. She remains in custody at the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene.

Mary Ballantyne, executive director of Children's Aid in Simcoe County, said she could not discuss the specifics of the Campione case, but said an external investigator will be hired to conduct a review.

Ballantyne said she's not yet in a position to say whether her agency dropped the ball.

"In all of the families that we are working with, there are risks for the children. We do try to ... have a place that is safe for the children. Sometimes there are issues with both parents. It's not directly obvious exactly where the best place is," she said.

The court documents show her agency took some steps to safeguard the children, including completing a risk-assessment of Leo. They found no "safety issues" with him seeing the kids.

In a statement released yesterday, Leo said he is "innocent of these allegations and have maintained my innocence from the beginning."

Source: Toronto Star

Serena and Sophia Campione
Serena, 3 (left), and sister Sophia, 1, were the daughters of Leo Campione and Frances Elaine Campione. Their mother is charged with first-degree murder in their deaths.

DiManno: Why was mother trusted?

"Daddy! Daddy!''

Her small arms in the air, reaching towards him, 3-year-old Serena Campione ran into her father's embrace.

The date was July 22 of this year. The place was Simcoe/Muskoka Supervised Access Centre. They had not seen each other, touched each other, in months. It had been forbidden.

From the supervised visitation report — part of a voluminous court file documenting the intensely acrimonious custody battle between Elaine and Leonardo Campione — finally released to the media yesterday:

"Mr. Campione picked up Serena, hugged her tightly and said: `I've missed you so much. You're getting so big.' Mr. Campione wiped tears from his eyes. Mr. Campione put Serena down, looked at her and said, `You're so beautiful', then asked his daughter: `Is mommy taking good care of you sweetie?' He wiped away tears again.''

His younger daughter, Sophia, only a year old, had been sleeping in a stroller. When she awoke, Campione "picked up Sophia and hugged her, gently touching her head, saying he missed her.''

Leo Campione would take many pictures of his little girls that day. His estranged wife, Elaine, would subsequently complain to the centre administrators about allowing her daughters to bring some of those photographs home with them.

At a later date, she would also take issue with the positive reviews from staff about Leo's irreproachable behaviour in these monitored visits.

From an affidavit, filed on October 2: "Of course the report of the access centre is positive because (Leo) and his parents know that there must be no talk there that is derogatory towards me ...''

Two days after this affidavit was filed, Serena and Sophia would both be found dead in the Barrie apartment where they had resided with their mom.

Elaine Campione has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Yet she was the parent who was trusted, who had full and exacting custody of the children, who fought bitterly against easing access restrictions imposed on her estranged and allegedly abusive husband, who was reportedly terrified that she would lose those babies to their father.

Despite all the alarm bells — and they'd been clanging — despite Elaine Campione's palpable mental instability, her hospitalization, the purported warnings that she might do harm to those children, she was mistress of the manger.

In her care, those beautiful little girls were killed. Nobody protected them.

The "how'' of it has not been determined, pending toxicology results.

But the foreboding of it should have been at least a little bit evident in a mother's increasingly erratic behaviour, alternately fiercely proprietary with the children and dumping them on her in-laws' doorstep.

Yet it was the father, Leo Campione, who was the putative monster, damned by a clutch of assault charges hanging over his head — accusations he steadfastly denies — and stuck in that no man's land of allegations still untested in court.

In a society that quite rightly abhors domestic violence, where restraining orders have failed to protect victims, there is a presumption of guilt and an institutional assumption of a father's lesser claim to his children.

Even before Leo Campione was granted supervised access — often with his parents in tow — he had been assessed by the Simcoe Children's Aid Society.

In a June 27, 2006 letter sent to Leo Campione, supervisor Geraldine Dooley-Phillips wrote: "(B)ased upon the information received from specific service providers and members of the community who have been associated with you, the Society does not have any current protection concerns about you having unsupervised contact with the children.''

At that juncture, Leo Campione — as per the provisions of his bail conditions, arising from alleged assaults against his wife and one against Serena — had not been allowed to be around his girls, unsupervised. Thus, when Elaine Campione left her daughters with her in-laws for a second time — in May of this year, after the children had been taken into care by Simcoe Children's Aid Society — Leo had to move out of his parents' house in order not to breach the bail terms.

Because of those outstanding charges, the Children's Aid Society would only vouch for Leo so far, which was prudent.

"Although the Society is not willing to support you being the primary caregiver given your current charges, the Society does not have any present safety issues with you being present with your children.''

But they did not appear to have any safety issues about Elaine Campione, even though she was the one who had apparently suffered a nervous breakdown.

The children were returned to her after her release from hospital.

In his affidavit, Diego Campione, the grandfather, said: "The children remained in our care until July 9, 2006, when Elaine's doctor stated that she was no longer a risk to the children and Elaine picked them up. After her release from hospital, Elaine would only agree to allow access at the access centre ...''

Leo Campione stood accused as a man who beat his wife and struck his child. Elaine, in court documents, boasted of her good mothering — presumably, on those occasions when she wasn't at the end of her emotional tether and unloading them. She also accused Leo of irrational jealousy, an uncontrollable temper, possessiveness and drunkenness — interestingly (except for the drinking), the very description that some neighbours and family friends have since given of her.

Leo Campione did take himself to Vitanova, a drug and alcohol treatment centre, his first session in June of last year, although it's debatable how much he needed their ministering.

Franca Carella, Vitanova's executive director, wrote last November: "Mr. Campione ... has been attending our Tuesday evening support groups to learn more about the perils of alcohol abuse although he shows no signs of being an alcoholic himself. In fact, since initiating his counseling sessions with me, he has been totally abstaining from alcohol.

"The counseling sessions have focused on Mr. Campione being better able to control and manage his emotions, in particular as they revolve around his frustration over his wife's alleged obsessive jealousy and her mistrust of him. Mr. Campione is a caring and loving husband, and father of two small children. Being separated from his family has been very difficult for him and he longs for the day that he will be reunited with them.''

Who could have foreseen it would be at their double funeral?

That's not an imponderable question. It has answers.

Source: Toronto Star