As part of my Children’s Rights in Canada course we are required to watch a documentary every week a participate in a discussion by answering questions related to the documentary. One of the most shocking documentaries I’ve seen to date was the documentary from week 9 titled Failing Jeffrey (you can watch the documentary here). The documentary is about one of the worst cases of child abuse Canada has ever seen and what I was most shocked about is just that – that the case took place in Toronto, Canada.
Five-year old Jeffrey Baldwin was found dead in 2002 after being abused and starved to death by his grandparents Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman who were ultimately arrested and convicted of second degree murder. Both Bottineau and Kidman had a history of violence and abuse, yet they were approved by the Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society to be foster parents to Jeffrey Baldwin and his siblings.
Workers from the Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society regularly checked up on Bottineau’s home yet did not think anything was wrong. Meanwhile, Jeffrey was horribly abused, starved and maltreated. I will not get into details about what Elva Bottineau did to Jeffrey (you can watch the documentary for a more detailed account of the case) but he was disgustingly treated for an ongoing period that ultimately led to his tragic death.
The most tragic thing about this case that many people will agree with is that Jeffrey’s death could have been prevented. Catholic Children’s Aid Society workers regularly visited the house, while Jeffrey’s aunt and uncle also lived in the same house along with another lodger. How did they not know what was going on? Well, as it turns out, a couple of them had their suspicions but when they confronted Elva she told them everything was fine and that she had just taken him to the doctor. He had not visited the doctor since he was a baby. Out of fear of Elva and some dependency issues (they lived in her house without paying rent) and because of her manipulation, no one said anything. Elva wouldn’t even let anyone see Jeffrey’s bedroom. When Jeffrey’s body was discovered, so was his room, covered in urine and feces, with a lock on the outside so he couldn’t get out when he was locked in.
Some of the questions that came up in this week’s discussion were: should parents be licensed? And would parental licensing promote children’s rights? Would it have saved Jeffrey Baldwin?
Many compare parenting to other potentially dangerous dangerous activities that require licenses like driving a car or practicing medicine and believe that parents should be licensed as such. I do not believe that parents licensing would promote children’s rights. One argument against parental licensing is that it fosters the conception of children as parental property which may negatively affect the child’s development. Also, parental licensing promotes blame among parents as it will make parents and other individuals constantly skeptical of who is fit to be a “good parent”. On this note, there is no concrete criteria and no appropriate test to accurately determine who makes a good parent. In the documentary Failing Jeffrey, Elva Bottineau was approved by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society to look after Jeffrey and his siblings and passed each visit and inspection by children’s aid workers. This sad and tragic case shows that the system cannot always be trusted and that people can slip through the cracks whether it be through lies and manipulation such as Elva or by other means.
Parental licensing would not promote children’s rights because such a program could never adequately, reasonably and fairly be enforced. There are cases of violation and unplanned pregnancies where parental licensing and determination for what happens to such babies would be extremely difficult. Parental licensing would surely have numerous negative repercussions, especially on the family as an institution, and as it stands such a program is unfair and simply unfeasible. Children’s rights would better be promoted through education and through the improvement of existing social services such as the Catholic Children’s Aid Society that failed Jeffrey Baldwin.
When it comes to international development, a lot of people think of traveling abroad to the developing world to create positive change. While development is obviously needed on a global scale, we should not be quick to overlook social injustices that occur much closer to home.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think that parents should be licensed in order to promote children’s rights?