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Custody granted to child abusers

Toronto agency made realization only after child died: 'We didn't check the file' on the grandparents' assault convictions, CAS director admits

National Post, Christie Blatchford, Saturday, February 22, 2003

TORONTO - Two convicted child abusers won custody of their four young grandchildren even as information about the pair's criminal records was buried in the files of the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto.

The National Post has confirmed that only after one of those grandchildren, five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, died an emaciated shell of a little boy last Nov. 30 and a Toronto Police homicide investigation began, did the child-welfare agency belatedly discover the critical documents in their own system.

"It's in our files," a stricken Mary McConnville, the CCAS executive director, told the Post in an interview in her downtown Toronto office yesterday.

"We did not check our records," she said bluntly. "We were as astonished and as disturbed as you are when we found it."

The case preceded Ms. McConnville's takeover at the helm of the agency three years ago, but she was frank in her assessment of what happened.

"We think we have detected a significant flaw in our policies and really regret we were unaware of" the grandparents' convictions.

"We don't answer for one minute that we should not have known the histories here," she said yesterday.

Jeffrey died a month and 20 days shy of his sixth birthday when the 911 Toronto emergency centre received a call and firefighters arrived at his grandparents' ramshackle east-end home to find the boy not breathing. He was formally pronounced dead within the hour at the Hospital for Sick Children.

A post-mortem followed, but the horror of the child's life was immediately evident to the naked eye: Jeffrey weighed only 19 pounds -- three less than he had at the age of 18 months -- and resembled a concentration-camp victim, his belly grotesquely swollen, ribs prominently displayed, and skin so desiccated it hung in folds on limbs as thin as sticks. His body was also dotted with red sores and holes, his penis and tiny bum covered in scabs.

Police quickly learned that Jeffrey, and a sister who is a year older, were kept in a small locked room of the house, with nothing in it but two cribs and a small chest. While the little girl was allowed out to attend school, Jeffrey rarely escaped the bleak confines of the room, and was in such distress he would sometimes bang his head on the wall.

The homicide probe into Jeffrey's death continues, with the surviving three children now in the agency's care.

What the child-welfare agency missed in its files was clear documentation that two of the six adults then living in that house -- the two who had won official custody of Jeffrey, his two sisters and his baby brother with the implicit consent of the CCAS, which Ms. McConnville said yesterday "did not object" to the grandparents' plan -- were demonstrably dangerous to children.

Jeffrey's grandmother, 51-year-old Elva Bottineau, was convicted on June 10, 1970, of assault causing bodily harm in the death of her own baby daughter, five-month-old Eva.

A Toronto Star story of that date, headlined "Mother put on probation for assaulting her baby," reported that though Eva died of pneumonia the previous February, Toronto Police were called in when an autopsy revealed the infant had also suffered "tiny fractures of the shoulders, elbows and wrists," and that while Ms. Bottineau at first denied assaulting the baby, she later changed her story.

Due to the developing nature of child-abuse investigations at that time, and the lack of sophisticated diagnostic tools such as bone scans that only became available years later, the assault was then believed to be unrelated to the baby's death.

Modern investigations have shown that pneumonia may be linked to such injuries as rib fractures, which inhibit the ability of an infant or young child to breathe properly or cough to clear her lungs.

The prosecutor in Eva's case was Patrick LeSage, who later went on to become the distinguished chief justice of the Ontario Court, and he told Judge Crawford Guest that no purpose would be served by putting Ms. Bottineau, whom he said a psychiatrist had described as "mentally defective, but not mentally ill, and impatient and aggressive," in jail. The judge agreed and sentenced her to a year's probation

Eight years later, it was Jeffrey's grandfather's turn in court.

Norman Kidman, now in his 50s, was convicted of two counts of assault causing bodily harm on Dec. 29, 1978, in connection with assaults on two of Ms. Bottineau's children, then about five and six, by her former relationship. Mr. Kidman was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $150 for each count by Judge Walter Hryciuk.

The two children were later made Crown wards and subsequently adopted.

But Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman went on to have four youngsters of their own, one of whom presented them with the four grandchildren.

The story of how Ms. Bottineau and Mr. Kidman won custody of those children is unclear.

As the Post revealed last December in a report about Jeffrey's death, it appears there may have been three separate court processes involved, with the grandparents gaining custody first of one child, then of Jeffrey and one of his sisters, and then, finally, their baby brother shortly after his birth.

The Catholic Children's Aid was involved, Ms. McConnville confirmed yesterday, because of "protection concerns" about the children's parents.

At one point, the children's mother was reported to the agency after she was seen shaking one of the youngsters in a welfare office.

It appears that what happened is that the grandparents came forward, with the consent of the children's parents, and sought custody privately in family court -- and that at least once, and perhaps as many as three times, the CCAS did not contest their application. "The parents were the subject of our protection concerns," Ms. McConnville said yesterday, "not the grandparents. It was the parents who were involved with us."

But, in fact, as Ms. McConnville agreed, it is not parents or prospective guardians who are the real clients in the child-welfare business, but rather vulnerable children.

"That's a perfectly legitimate question," she said yesterday, adding that in Jeffrey's case, "Here we had a record and somehow we didn't get to it."

As soon as the grandparents' histories were found in the agency's files, Ms. McConnville said, the CCAS set about finding out what had gone awry.

As it turned out, she said, "There was no policy at that time that staff check" files in cases where relatives are seeking custody of children considered at risk with their own parents -- this is what's known as "kinship care" in the child-welfare business. Jeffrey's case, Ms. McConnville said, "raises the question of whether we approach extended family differently than we do others who are trying to plan for children." It is not unusual, she said, "for family members to come forward where we have protection concerns."

Ms. McConnville stressed that "we did not knowingly place" the four youngsters at risk and emphasized that the discovery of the grandparents' criminal records came after the little boy's death. "There is a policy now," she said. "There wasn't then."

She said the agency's failure to focus on the child as the client, and not the involved adults, is one of the most troubling aspects of the case.

"It's a significant concern," she told the Post, "and it's one I've had all my years in child welfare -- that it is the child who is the client, that the child does need to be the focus of our concerns."

It is not the first time that CCAS staff have had difficulty making the distinction.

Most recently, it was another CCAS client, Jordan Heikamp, who came to public attention.

The baby was just five weeks old when in the early summer of 1997 he starved to death at a native women's shelter chock-a-block with helping professionals while under the ostensible supervision of an agency social worker.

Both that worker, Angie Martin, and Jordan's teenage mother, Renee Heikamp, were charged criminally in the baby's death, but were later discharged after a preliminary hearing.

But both women testified at length at an eight-week coroner's inquest that examined Jordan's death in the spring of 2001. Of all the evidence the jury heard, perhaps the most alarming was Ms. Martin's revelation that she believed she could never "impose" her will on the teenage mother, and her apparent belief that it was the young mother, and not baby Jordan, who was her client.

Three years before Jordan's death, another tiny charge of the CCAS was in the headlines.

This was baby Sara Podniewicz, who died gasping for breath, her lungs filled with pneumonia, in her car seat at the age of six months and 10 days.

Sara had endured 24 broken bones -- including 16 fractured ribs, broken legs and a broken arm -- at the hands of her crack-addled parents, Michael Podniewicz and Lisa Olsen, who were, two years later, convicted of second-degree murder in the baby's death.

The trial jurors learned that though Podniewicz had been convicted earlier of aggravated assault on the couple's first child, Mikey Jr. -- an attack that left the infant deaf, blind, partially paralyzed and with the permanent mental age of 10 weeks -- he was nonetheless allowed, after his release from prison, to move back in with his wife, then pregnant with Sara, and their other three children.

A condition of his parole was that he not be alone with his children unless accompanied by a "responsible adult," yet somehow, with the approval of both his parole officer and the CCAS, Olsen was approved as that person.

The agency had a worker assigned to supervise the family, and had another worker contracted from another agency to monitor the home.

These workers both testified at the murder trial, where they were questioned at length about their cheerful notes about the baby's alleged progress.

"This is extremely upsetting," Ms. McConnville said yesterday. "We have a tragedy on our hands, and the only thing we can do is try to learn from it. It's very painful."

Copyright 2003 National Post

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad.

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..