TORONTO - A Toronto couple's history of child abuse did not come up when they took custody of their grandchildren, one of whom they ultimately starved to death, because it was a "private arrangement" with the children's parents, an inquest heard Tuesday.
Putting Jeffrey Baldwin and his siblings in the care of their grandparents was seen as a positive move to provide some temporary relief to the teenage parents, Catholic Children's Aid Society supervisor Sal Salmena told a coroner's inquest into Jeffrey's death.
Not all young parents have the benefit of "the grandma option," he said.
The inquest has heard that both grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman, had a history of child abuse, including separate convictions and various dealings with the children's aid society. But when the society was looking at placing Jeffrey and his siblings in their care, the workers didn't look through their own files to see what might be lurking in the grandparents' past.
The society first got involved with Jeffrey's parents, Richard Baldwin and Yvonne Kidman, when a neighbour reported concerns about their care of their first baby, a daughter referred to at the inquest only as Sibling 1 to protect her identity.
They were a hot-headed young couple who agreed they needed a cooling-off period and together with the society agreed that Kidman's parents, primarily her mother, should take the baby for a while, the inquest has heard.
It wasn't a "formal process" at that stage, Salmena testified, so no formal checks were done on the grandparents.
"She was there as a temporary relief for young parents," he said. "There would be no need, or it wasn't the practice, to do the check on the grandparents."
When the young parents agreed to have their first child stay — temporarily — with the grandparents, it was a "private arrangement," Salmena said.
"Child welfare, even though we assisted and facilitated, it wasn't our plan," he said. "It was a plan in private between a young couple and their parents."
It was his understanding that Yvonne Kidman had already been relying on her mother for babysitting, so sending the baby to Bottineau for a while wasn't a "new plan," he said.
The inquest has heard that Jeffrey and his siblings were each sent to their grandparents on a temporary basis, but each time Bottineau went to family court to get permanent custody.
Kidman has testified that she and her mother, who had kicked her out of the house at age 16, did not get along. Up to that point she and Bottineau had not spoken since the birth of the baby, nor had her mother spent any time with the child, Kidman testified earlier this month.
"That would surprise me," Salmena testified Tuesday. "That was not my understanding...Almost 20 years have passed, but that doesn't sound correct to me."
Kidman also testified that had she known about her mother and father's past, she would not have consented to her children being placed in their care.
Growing up, she knew her mother's first child had died as an infant. It was crib death, she was told. Kidman didn't know that after the baby died of pneumonia the doctors found multiple untreated fractures and her mother was convicted of assault causing bodily harm, the inquest has heard.
She didn't know that two different psychological evaluations cast major doubts on Bottineau's ability to care for children.
Kidman knew her mother had two other children from a previous relationship, but she didn't know that they were taken out of the home and made Crown wards following a severe beating by Norman Kidman that landed them in hospital. She also didn't know her father was convicted of two counts of assault causing bodily harm.
Yvonne Kidman didn't know those children later alleged horrific abuse and neglect, including being tied to their beds and locked in dog crates. She didn't know that the Catholic Children's Aid society had supervised Bottineau and Norman Kidman's care of herself and her two sisters, the inquest heard.
Salmena also said he would not have signed off on Bottineau and Kidman caring for Jeffrey and his siblings if he had read those files.
"If I knew that information at the time absolutely I would not have accepted that option," he said.
Bottineau and Kidman, who are now serving life sentences for second-degree murder in Jeffrey's death, would keep Jeffrey and one of his sisters locked for long stretches of time in their room, where they were left to urinate and defecate, then forced to clean up their own mess. Jeffrey was five when he died.
He would have been severely underfed for a long time, the inquest has heard. Jeffrey was weeks shy of his sixth birthday and weighed just 21 pounds — about the same as he did on his first birthday.
Salmena was involved in meetings with the family when custody of Jeffrey's oldest sister, Sibling 1, was being discussed. He was involved again only for one meeting when Bottineau was campaigning for custody of Jeffrey and his other sister.
"I'm also very hands-on supervisor, so I like to get involved with the families and nothing really stood out with this case," he testified.
Salmena's testimony is set to continue Wednesday.
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