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Saturday, December 04, 1999Mother will not face trial over baby's death
Judge blames system
An Ontario provincial court judge ruled yesterday that the case involving the mother of a five-week-old who died of starvation, as well as the Catholic Children's Aid Society caseworker responsible for the infant, would not proceed to trial.
Renee Heikamp, the baby's mother, and Angie Martin, the CAS caseworker, were both charged with criminal negligence in August, 1997, after an autopsy revealed that Jordan Heikamp had died of chronic starvation.
After a 13-month inquiry, which began in September, 1998, Judge Mary Hogan yesterday read a 36-page decision that placed the blame on the existing child protection system.
"Judge Hogan basically indicted the system. She basically called it a systemic error," said John McCracken, the communications officer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, to which Ms. Martin belongs. "Everyone was to blame," he added.
Mary McConnville, executive director at the Catholic Children's Aid Society, said the charges laid against Ms. Martin had made other social workers anxious.
"Every social worker in child welfare across the country watched this inquiry very carefully and felt that they could be walking in Angie's shoes," she said.
Ms. Martin's case was the second known instance of criminal charges being laid against a social worker in Ontario. The first instance occurred in Brockville in 1982 when three CAS members were charged with child abandonment. They were committed for trial, but acquitted.
Renee Heikamp was 19 when she gave birth to her 4-pound, 7- ounce son. She had been living on the streets for some years and had been in and out of shelters. The Northwest General Hospital staff (now part of Humber River Memorial Hospital) notified the city's Catholic Children's Aid Society after receiving a phone call about the mother.
Jordan was released from hospital after 11 days to live with his mother at Anduhyaun, a shelter on Weston Road. Less than four weeks later, Jordan died, weighing 3 pounds, nine ounces.
Ms. McConnville said Judge Hogan identified areas of concern in handling mothers in similar circumstances to Ms. Heikamp, calling for further examination.
"It's really important not to walk way from this and breathe a sigh of relief," said Ms. McConnville, "but to remember that this was a tragedy and a child has died."
Ms. McConnville said improvements had already been made. Amendments to the Child and Family Services Act are expected to be introduced in the new year.
They include lowering the threshold of risk needed to be present before a Children's Aid Society can intervene in a case, including neglect as grounds for finding a child in need of protection, and speeding up the judicial process.
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