The mother of a five-year-old boy who starved to death at the hands of his grandparents says she had no idea her parents had a sordid history of child abuse when she consented to placing her kids in their care.
Yvonne Kidman testified Tuesday at a coroner’s inquest into the death of five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who weighed just 21 pounds when he died, about the same as he did on his first birthday.
“If I would have known all this stuff about my parents I wouldn’t put my kids in that spot,” she said.
But despite Norman Kidman and Elva Bottineau’s history of child abuse, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society not only placed Jeffrey and his siblings under their care, they had sent foster children to the couple years earlier, the inquest heard.
Bottineau’s first child died as an infant of pneumonia in 1969, but after multiple fractures were discovered in the baby’s body, Bottineau was convicted of assault causing bodily harm.
She had two more children from a relationship before Norman Kidman, then two more daughters with Kidman. She was pregnant with another when Kidman beat the two oldest kids so badly that they landed in hospital.
The beating came just two months after an order allowing CCAS to monitor the kids’ care expired.
Kidman was convicted of two counts of assault causing bodily harm.
Assessments after the kids were apprehended revealed Bottineau and Kidman had “grossly abused” them, said Freya Kristjanson, the lawyer representing Jeffrey’s surviving siblings. They were routinely denied food, locked in their bedroom, sometimes in dog crates, sometimes tied to their beds and punished by being forced to stand in the corner for hours, she said.
Yvonne Kidman knew none of this at the time, she told the inquest. She learned much of it at their trial, where they were ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in Jeffrey’s death.
What she didn’t know, until Kristjanson asked her about it Tuesday, was that she herself was the subject of a CCAS supervision order.
Kidman realized during her testimony that a woman she thought was a friend of the family — she was told the woman was her sister’s godmother — was really a children’s aid worker checking up on them.
When the CCAS recommended the two abused children become Crown wards in 1978, it left Yvonne, a one year old, and her two sisters, one an infant, one a toddler, still in the care of their parents, though under a supervision order, the inquest heard.
“Can I ask a question?” Kidman said after learning that from Kristjanson. “If it was that bad why weren’t we all removed?”
“I think that’s one of the questions we all have,” Kristjanson replied.
The next year a psychologist assessed Bottineau as incapable of functioning without “considerable” outside support and concluded she was a danger to herself and others, the inquest heard. Kidman was assessed as being in danger of losing control “with a potential for explosiveness.”
The supervision order concerning Yvonne Kidman and her two sisters ended in 1981.
Then, a few years later, the inquest heard, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society made Bottineau a foster mom for a while.
The story of Bottineau’s own life came into sharper focus through Kristjanson’s questioning. She was the 11th of 15 or 16 children and Bottineau’s own mom, Cordelia Bottineau, had CCAS files dating back to 1964, the inquest heard.
The same year an 18-year-old Elva Bottineau had her first child, the CCAS intervened after her mother beat her 13-year-old sister so badly that she had to be treated in hospital, the inquest heard.
An assessment conducted of Elva Bottineau after her baby died found her to be in the “mental defective borderline range of intellectual functioning,” the inquest heard.
Yvonne Kidman was taken aback and interrupted Kristjanson.
“I have a hard time listening to this because she seemed so smart,” Kidman said. “She used to have graduation plaques on the wall stating that she went to law (school) and (studied) stuff to do with children and stuff like that.”
The inquest has heard Bottineau had fake diplomas on the wall of her computer room for “legal assistant,” “child psychology,” “police sciences,” “private investigation,” workplace communication skill“ and ”adult psychology.“
Bottineau gained custody of her four grandchildren by making numerous and false allegations to children’s aid societies, her daughter told the inquest.
Her inquest testimony marked the first time she was able to refute those allegations, she said.
In fact, she said, it marked the first time she had even seen much of what Bottineau had been telling children’s aid society workers about her. At the time in the late 1990s when custody of her children was being discussed, no children’s aid worker ever put those allegations to her to ask for her side of the story, Kidman said.
The teenage parents left their baby alone in a basement apartment, were out at all hours of the night, yelled and screamed at each other with their kids in the room, overdosed one on medication, rarely bathed them and her daughter’s partner used drugs, Bottineau wrote in letters to children’s aid.
Kidman said she had never seen the documents before.
“I can also say it’s a load of crap,” she said.