The golden boy: remembering The Child behind the headlines

Created as a final project for Sheridan College's Journalism - New Media program. Published on SlantNews.com on September 24, 2016. Written by Liz Goode, images sourced as quoted on original link.

Rain drizzles down from the sky as children fly by, racing to the nearby playground. The din of their laughing and shrieking rises from the yellow monkey bars and mixes with the clack of ice skates sliding across the frozen oval of a nearby skating rink.

Surrounding the park on all four sides are aging townhouses, with painted siding climbing up to meet angular window eves. Inside these multistoried homes, hundreds of people are going about their daily lives. They are getting the table ready for Sunday dinner, watching T.V., playing, studying and preparing for the week to come.

And in the middle of it all stands Todd Boyce, hand resting on a cold statue. A golden boy, wearing a superman cape.

This is Greenwood Park, in the east end of Toronto. It sits in the center of the Greektown neighborhood that Jeffrey Baldwin called home. But Jeffrey never got to play in this playground. Nobody strapped on skates to his tiny feet or held his hand as he toddled across the ice.

Instead, Jeffrey was locked away inside a cold, dark room, forced to live among his own feces, no toys to play with.

And there he sat, for four long years, imprisoned deep within the cogs and wheels driving the massive bureaucracy that is the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

There are many other children like Jeffrey in the province of Ontario. About 17,000, according to recent estimates. These children live with foster parents, in group homes or kinship arrangements, and, in some cases, alone in hotels. We shop, eat and sit on the bus next to them, never knowing or noticing.

Jeffrey was noticed, but not until long after his final breath left his emaciated frame.

But one man, more than 400 kilometers away, saw Jeffrey for what he was.

 “Jeffrey’s story really stuck with me,” says Todd Boyce. “He was just a little kid.”   


"TheY Called him pig"
 

 Jeffrey before being placed in the care of his maternal grandparents.

Jeffrey before being placed in the care of his maternal grandparents.

Jeffrey had been committed to the care of his maternal grandparents Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society (CCAS). They locked the child in an upstairs bedroom.

They starved and beat him. They refused him access to the bathroom and then punished him for soiling his room by making him stand naked in a bathtub for hours while his siblings played downstairs.

They called him ‘pig’. And according to last year’s coroner’s inquest, no one saw that he was suffering, not the social worker handling the placement, not his parents who were frequent visitors, not even the four other adults living in the same subsidized townhouse.

There was no escape for Jeffrey, and he spent more than half of his short life locked inside the prison of dysfunctional family dynamics.

“Over a period of years, there were so many opportunities to save him,” says Boyce. “But nobody did.”

Jeffrey succumbed to pneumonia and chronic starvation and finally escaped from the prison of his short existence on November 30, 2002. He was five years old, and weighed 21lbs, just the same as he did on his first birthday.

When the news broke, the press went wild. Jeffrey’s young face was plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Reporters flocked to the scene of the crime, trying to give the public answers to why and how this could have happened.

He was the latest hot topic, a tragedy with all the trappings of a media circus. And the little boy who loved Superman was lost again, tumbled and tossed into the public eye by the 24 hour news cycle.

“There’s Just Some Things I can’t Explain”


Jeffrey’s story first came to the attention of Boyce in 2013, during a coroner’s inquest that was concluded nearly 11 years after the child’s lonely death in a locked room.

Boyce lives with his wife and three young children in Ottawa. He found himself fixated on Jeffrey’s case, and that’s when he noticed some uncomfortable coincidences.

“My youngest son has similar features to Jeffrey in the photos that were published,” Boyce explains. “I remember looking at an article on my computer and my 5-year-old daughter comes up to me and asks “why is my brother on the screen?”.

“I had to explain to her that it wasn’t him, it was Jeffrey Baldwin. And my eldest son shares a birthday with Jeffrey – January 20- so there were these little things that made connections.”

As Boyce became more and more involved in Jeffrey’s case, he found himself fielding questions from his children that he had no answers for. “They’d ask me questions, like why would somebody do that? I’d have to tell them that I can’t explain why they would do that, it’s just what happened, and there’s just some things I can’t explain.”

Those working within the child protection system were also at a loss, unable to comprehend how such a fate befell a child in their protection.

“What no one could grasp was how it was possible that the kind of malnutrition Jeffrey suffered and the way in which he lived went on for as long as it did without the worker noticing that something was going on,” says Michelle Roswell*.

Roswell has had a long career working for assorted children’s welfare agencies both in front-line capacities and as a mental health professional. She has asked that a pseudonym be used to protect her privacy.

“You know, the Jeffrey Baldwin case was horrendous for any of us working in any part of the system. Sadly Jeffrey Baldwin is not the only child that’s been in care and died there. But, because of the extent and duration of the abuse, I think it was a wake-up call for us all.”

She pauses.  

“I’d love to say that it will never happen again, but unfortunately as the children’s aid societies get no increase in funding the reality is that everybody is being asked to do more with less. And as long as there are no significant increases in funding, there are always going to be cases that fall through the cracks of the system.”

Jeffrey fell between those cracks. Ignored during his life, Jeffrey was transformed into fodder for court cases and high traffic televised debates after the story of his horrific existence became news.

The Golden Boy
 

But then one day, more than a decade after his death, a man who had never met Jeffrey, decided to give this little boy what every person deserves in death.  Todd Boyce chose to memorialize Jeffrey, to respect his memory and give meaning to a life cut short. In the form of a statue- the golden boy.

“I found myself thinking what a horrible thing to happen to Jeffrey,” says Boyce. “What can I do to do something, to make people aware of his story, and maybe learn about it and know who he was? Because he was hidden away from society, not allowed to have any friends or play outside.”

The idea of a statue was sparked by a trip Boyce took to Saint Johns, Newfoundland where he saw a memorial to another child, from a very different family.

“There is this huge, beautiful Peter Pan statue in Bowring Park. It was made for a little girl who died in a ferry sinking… her grandfather had the statue made for her. There was a simple dedication- just ‘to a little girl who loved parks.’”

It was a good idea. So good that more than 550 people came together on the fundraising website Indiegogo to support Boyce’s project, donating a total of $35,015.

“I discovered that there is a lot of support out there,” he says. “There’s no way I could have done this by myself. I certainly didn’t have the money to build a statue on my own. I didn’t have the contacts or the expertise. But people reached out to me once they learned about the statue. They offered their services, they donated money- sometime it was a dollar, and some donations were over $2000.”


One couple threw a fundraiser at their Toronto nightclub and raised $10,000 for the project. “They came to me and said this story means a lot to us and we want to give back to our community as well.”

“There is child abuse that happens in Canada. And if people don’t report it, a similar tragedy could occur to somebody else. The statue reminds people of this,” says Boyce.

The statue also gave those who were directly impacted by Jeffrey’s short life the opportunity to take some action, and do something meaningful for this child.

“A lot of people who were involved the case itself, with the inquiry- the jury members, the lawyers, the first responders and some of the detectives – they all contacted me and were helpful as well, and some donated money.”

The creation of the statue also gave Jeffrey’s siblings an opportunity to mourn their brother like any child would.

“One of Jeffrey’s sisters, she sent me a poem that she wrote and wanted to have transcribed on the bronze bench, so we were able to include that,” says Boyce. “And she also requested a hot wheels car.”

 

Different Spending Priorities
 

The financial support of members of the public for Jeffrey’s memorial stands in stark contrast to the funding priorities of the provincial government.

People who had never met Jeffrey were so moved by his story that they went out of their way to donate to the memorial for a little boy who had died 13 years before. But during those same 13 years, Ontario’s provincial government has made no adjustments to its budget priorities to facilitate increased services and abuse prevention measures for children under its care.

“The sad thing is that funding in child welfare has not gone up significantly in the last 15 years, so they’re having to do more with less,” explains Roswell. “And that’s been an ongoing battle with the ministries that finance the children’s aid societies in the province.”

At the same time, funding cut-backs have meant that less foster care options are available for vulnerable children. “About two-thirds of the beds have been shut down over the last 15 years,” Roswell says.

Instead, the priority is to keep children with their families, with the support of education and programming aimed to help caregivers and children communicate more efficiently.  And Roswell sees the success of these programs.

“The statistics show kids are best off staying with their family of origin- whether biological or adoptive families.”

And in many cases, with some assistance, these family units become stronger and the child thrives. But these support services were not offered to Jeffrey’s young parents, who had four children in quick succession.

Instead, these children were promptly removed by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, and placed in the care of their grandparents.

During the trial of Elva Bottineau, witnesses attested to the fact that this grandmother saw custody of her daughter’s children as a means to gain monthly income. And indeed, the flow of money is a pervasive theme affecting all levels of the systems that were designed to protect Jeffrey.

In 2014, Mary McConville, Executive Director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto collected a salary totaling $211, 752. Meanwhile, social workers dealing with children in care on a day-to-day basis make at most $67,000 per year.  

“You see the executives driving in their cars that are paid for by taxpayer’s money, it’s a benefit of their job,” notes Boyce. “Meanwhile the workers, they don’t have the tools that they need in order to provide the service for the kids, you know, the ones that matter the most.”

“People who are passionate about it, they don’t need $200,000 to do the job. It seems like more self-interest than what they are there for,” he says.

After Jeffrey’s death, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society were never quite able to explain away the fact that they didn’t check their own records on Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman.

If they had, they would have discovered that the couple had a previous record of horrific child abuse that saw two of Bottineau’s own children being removed from the home.

Some blame an overworked and under trained social worker for this oversight. But this is evidence of a larger lack of systematic responsibility and organizational competence on the part of the CCAS.

And this is a pattern that continues on the level of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the provincial agency responsible for all 44 child welfare societies in Ontario. Earlier this year, they announced that there would be a five year delay on the implementation of the Child Protection Information Network, or CPIN.

The CPIN is designed to synchronize the records of all children in care throughout the province, and was one of the jury’s recommendations at the inquest into Jeffrey’s death.

A centralized online database could prevent children from being placed with relatives who have a history of abuse. But due to the spending priorities of the province of Ontario, children will be put in the way of potential danger for five more years.

“I think that the funding model isn’t right,” Boyce concludes, “These children are being seen as just a cost, as opposed to an investment.”

Remembering Jeffrey

On October 28th, 2014, several hundred people came together in Greenwood Park. They gathered to dedicate Jeffrey’s statue, and to remember this golden boy.

“It was cold, and it wasn’t a very nice day, but still so many people came,” Boyce explains. The statue had just been transported to the park that morning. It stood, covered by a sheet.

“A lot of people attended, people from the neighborhood and people involved in Jeffrey’s case in one way or another. There was a lot of emotion, and it was very important for all of us, I think,” he says.

“There were some speeches from people and then when that was all done, we just pulled the veil off and people got to see the statue for the first time.”

“There was a little bit of a gasp when the veil was taken off for the first time and people saw it,” recalls Boyce. “That was very heartwarming, just the reaction from the crowd.”

The ceremony gave people in the neighborhood the opportunity to remember the little boy that had once lived in their community.

“I got to talk to a lot of people, and it was very important and also rewarding to see how much it meant to people to see the statue of Jeffrey there.”

Boyce also met some of the children who had grown up alongside Jeffrey’s siblings. “They hadn’t seen Jeffrey’s sisters or brother for 12  or  13  years, and now they were 20 years old and asking if I had any way to contact them.”

Jeffrey’s story turned the little boy who was once doted upon by his teenage parents into the axis of a media storm and the subject of national debates.

But with the action of one man and the support of many others, Jeffrey was finally able to return to his community and be recognized again as a neighborhood child. Thirteen years later, the golden boy was finally home.