TORONTO – A foster parent who took in the three surviving siblings of a five-year-old boy starved to death by his grandparents says she was given no prior warning about the children’s background or that they had lost a brother.
The woman, who cannot be identified, told the inquest into Jeffrey Baldwin’s death Monday that two of his siblings were conditioned to treat Jeffrey and his similarly abused six-year-old sister as “subhuman.”
It was only through conversations and the children’s behaviour over time that horrifying details began to emerge of the abuse and neglect in Jeffrey’s home.
“They were told that if they told anyone, CAS (Children’s Aid Society) would take them away and everyone would be mean and horrible to them,” the foster mother recounted on the witness stand, where she often grew emotional when describing incidents that took place in the first few days after Jeffrey’s siblings arrived in her home.
When Jeffrey died of complications of chronic starvation in 2002, he weighed 21 pounds — about the same as he did on his first birthday.
The inquest is expected to determine whether enough changes have been made to the child protection system in the 11 years since Jeffrey died, or if there are more improvements that can be made to ensure no other child suffers his fate.
Jeffrey’s grandparents — Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman — were given custody of the boy and his three siblings despite both of them having previous convictions for child abuse.
The inquest’s jury heard about the “hierarchy” that existed among the four siblings, with Jeffrey and his youngest sister at the very bottom — both referred to as “the pigs.”
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The foster mother grimaced as she described how Jeffrey’s abused sister arrived in her home with a distended belly, scabs all over her arms and legs and open oozing sores on her feet.
She said it was clear that the oldest sibling and the youngest, who were described as angry and confused kids, had been taught to look down upon Jeffrey and his sister — a way of thinking that was illustrated by how they protested when Jeffrey’s sister sat at the dining table, or when she was allowed to play with the same toys as them.
“(The youngest sibling) asked where the ‘pig wall’ was in my house,” she recalled. “I said ‘We don’t have pigs in this house we have people. He pointed at (his sister) and my youngest daughter and said ‘Those two, they’re the pigs.”
At another point, while Jeffrey’s sister was eating very quickly at the dining table — she had an insatiable appetite — the foster mother remembers the youngest child saying “if she pukes it she has to eat it right, cause at grandma’s house that’s what we did.”
There were also times when the woman found Jeffrey’s sister drinking from the toilet.
“It was something horrific to see a child drinking out of your toilet,” she said, adding that the oldest sibling explained that her sister and Jeffrey “had to wash themselves and their underwear in the toilet, and that was grandma’s idea.”
The woman also recounted instances where Jeffrey’s mistreated sister described the physical abuse she was subjected to by her grandparents, including being whacked with a broom.
In addition to the terrible treatment Jeffrey and his sister were subjected to — which included being locked away in their filthy, cold room while their grandmother babysat a neighbour’s child — the foster mother said all the four children were mistreated in some way by the adults that took care of them.
She said the oldest child told her about the “lickings” — spanking with a metal spoon that their grandfather would subject them to.
“They lined up and had to remove their clothing and underpants. When I asked why they had to take off underpants they said it was so they wouldn’t bleed on them,” she recalled. “And they would watch the person in front of them.”
The foster mother said the hate that the siblings were taught to feel for each other slowly started to dissipate as they talked about what had gone on in their home. The oldest sibling even began wondering if there had been anything she could have done to prevent Jeffrey’s death, the woman said.
“She said she should have told someone to do something…she was sorry she wasn’t nicer to him because he really wasn’t a dog or a pig,” the woman recalled.
“I told her she was the bravest child I had ever known…there was no responsibility that was hers.”
Bottineau and Kidman were ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in Jeffrey’s death and forcible confinement for their treatment of the sister.