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The Real Way to Save Jeffrey

September 21, 2013 permalink

A coroner's inquest is under way into the death of Jeffrey Baldwin. Until now fixcas has ignored the event. These inquests are a choreographed charade that always lead to the same conclusion. The coroner's jury returns a set of recommendations all suggesting giving children's aid more money and power. Today's article contains an observation that will surely be overlooked in the jury's recommendations — if Jeffrey had been left with his parents, he most likely would be alive today. Even imperfect parents, as Baldwin's were, give better care than the children's aid bureaucracy.



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Christie Blatchford: If Jeffrey Baldwin had stayed with his ‘young and stupid’ parents, he’d probably be alive today

Richard Baldwin
Richard Baldwin, biological father of Jeffrey Baldwin, leaves 900 Bay Street after testifying at the coroner's inquest into his son's death, in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.

Jeffrey Baldwin’s father sobbed in the witness stand as he remembered the last time he saw his little boy.

Despite Richard Baldwin’s evident distress, or more likely because of it, his tears came as welcome relief: At last, a witness was weeping for the right person.

Jeffrey Baldwin
Family photo

The 37-year-old was testifying Wednesday at the Ontario coroner’s inquest into his son’s Nov. 30, 2002, death from the lethal trifecta of pneumonia, septic shock and starvation.

“I gave him a hug, in the living room,” Mr. Baldwin said.

“How did he feel?” coroner’s counsel Jill Witkin asked.

“Very small,” said Mr. Baldwin, his voice breaking.

“Did he say anything?” Ms. Witkin asked.

“He just called me Dad,” Mr. Baldwin said, sobbing.

This last visit was in the spring or summer of 2002, months before the five-year-old died.

By that time, Jeffrey and his three siblings had been in the custody of their maternal grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, for years, their own young parents deemed inept by both family courts and child-care workers.

In fact, all had been bamboozled by Bottineau, a woman of marginal intelligence but astonishing cunning who pitted family members against one another and manipulated social workers with psychopathic aplomb.

In 2006, Bottineau and Kidman were convicted of second-degree murder in Jeffrey’s death and of forcible confinement in the regular locking-up of both the little boy and his then-six-year-old sister in a foul unheated room.

While none of the six children then living in the east-end Toronto house could be said to have had a storybook existence, Jeffrey and his sister were the dirty secrets.

Largely hidden from public view, rarely allowed out of their feces- and urine-stained prison and treated always with contempt, the two predictably withered in every way.

At the time of his death, Jeffrey weighed a pound less than he had as a healthy one-year-old — 21 pounds.

His sister survived largely, it appears, because she had started kindergarten for half-days and received school snacks.

What Mr. Baldwin knew about all this was minimal.

Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman

By then, the access he and Ms. Kidman were getting to their own four children was increasingly grudging and limited.

Bottineau would cancel scheduled visits, claiming one or another of the kids was sick, or the young couple would arrive at the house, only to find plans had changed.

House where Jeffrey Baldwin lived
National Post file

That was exactly what happened that fall, Mr. Baldwin said.

Unusually, he and Ms. Kidman were being allowed to have Jeffrey and his sister for the weekend — Bottineau was complaining she was having difficulty coping.

But when he arrived to pick up the kids, Bottineau told him Jeffrey was upstairs in bed, ill. She didn’t want Mr. Baldwin going up there, catching whatever Jeffrey had, then infecting the little girl, who would bring whatever the bug was back into the house.

He left with only his little daughter.

His account of the couple’s two days with one of their own children was wrenching because he was so clearly proud.

At one point, Ms. Witkin asked if the child was verbal yet,

“Oh, she was verbal for a while,” Mr. Baldwin replied with a huge grin. “She’s like her mother.”

First, he said, he gave her “two baths” because she smelled of urine and “threw her clothing away” because it stank.

They took her to their local park, and the next day, though he had to work, Ms. Kidman took the little girl to the restaurant where she then worked, “to show her off.”

These were obvious clues, of course, to something being awry in the house, and Mr. Baldwin wasn’t blind to them.

He was worried, especially so when they had to take the little girl back to the grandparents’ house, and she was inconsolable.

And Jeffrey’s failure to grow gnawed at him.

“He didn’t look very good,” Mr. Baldwin said of the last time he’d seen him. “I questioned her [Bottineau] and she’d say, ‘Oh don’t worry, I’m on top of it. He’ll bounce back.’ ”

But he not only felt powerless, he actually was.

He and Ms. Kidman had started popping out kids when they were teenagers — they had six, one stillborn, the others all ending up with Bottineau and Kidman or in care — and it seemed they could do little right.

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society was first called in by a neighbour about their first-born, who was briefly left alone as a baby while her parents had a fight.

Bottineau offered to look after the little girl and at first it seemed a solution — Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Kidman needed help, Bottineau had the agency’s support, it was going to be temporary.

But it was the beginning of the end for the young couple.

Bottineau, and two of Ms. Kidman’s sisters, slyly campaigned against them getting the little girl — and later, the others — back.

Not until the murder trial, Mr. Baldwin said, did he and Ms. Kidman learn the extent to which Bottineau had undercut their efforts.

As Ms. Witkin put it in her opening statement last week, Bottineau “continued to feed information to the Society about Richard and Yvonne’s shortcomings” behind their backs, so they never really knew what hit them.

The young couple surely had shortcomings: Their relationship was volatile; they were, as Mr. Baldwin said several times, “young and stupid”; they had trouble managing their money (though he has always worked).

So, while he was worried, he didn’t know where to turn.

Why wouldn’t he have called his worker at the agency, Ms. Witkin asked.

“I have hate towards the Catholic Children’s Aid,” he snapped. “[The worker] is the last person I ever want to speak to ever again.”

Later, asked for suggestions that might prevent another death like Jeffrey’s, Mr. Baldwin mused about child-welfare agencies.

“To have so much power and have no one checking on them seems wrong,” he said. “Maybe our government will get smarter and build an organization to police the Children’s Aid.”

Bottineau and Kidman weren’t young and stupid when they were pronounced marvy caregivers by the family courts and two child-welfare agencies and, without criminal record or background checks, given custody of Jeffrey and his siblings.

They were just convicted child abusers with a horrific history.

Mr. Baldwin said he believes if he and Ms. Kidman had received more help and had got their kids back, “I think he’d [Jeffrey] be alive today.”

He rather has a point.

Source: National Post