My neighbour, Jeffrey Baldwin

If I peek through the branches out my son’s bedroom, I can see the room where Jeffrey Baldwin lived, and died, he, the five-year-old who died from neglect, in my backyard.

At that time, when he lived, my children were close to his age, and I knew some of the hardships of this community and of our school. I remember the mother who asked me for $2 so her child could enjoy the school’s hot dog lunch. I remember the girl who carried the last bits of a bag of corn flakes to school for her lunch. I remember the boy who didn’t go to school because he had no winter coat until he got a hand-me-down — how he danced along the block then in that ugly corduroy coat! And I remember the kindergarten child whose mother was always ‘sleeping’ as she wandered our street, joining snack time on our porch.

But I don’t remember Jeffrey Baldwin, who also lived here in my neighbourhood. Instead, I vaguely remember the noisy crowd of adults that sat on his porch (one of them, Jeffrey’s aunt, trained in Early Childhood Education — another shocker).

Later, I learned that Jeffrey’s sisters were at the same grade school my children were, although, in different grades. We would all have gone to the same school concerts or gathered together out in the playground. Each day, Jeffrey’s sisters would have munched on the same daily offering of muffins or yogurt and carrots or apples from the small kitchen on the main floor where volunteers chopped and baked for the snack program.

At the inquest into Jeffrey’s death, a pediatric nutritionist said that this classroom food program probably saved Jeffrey’s sister; she too was targeted, neglected by her grandparents, but, unlike Jeffrey, she was ‘allowed’ to go to school, and so she ate.

I remember the snack program donation envelopes carried home in my son’s backpack each month. And I remember the hunt to fill it with the requested $20 donation each time. Times were lean in our household, but I knew some of my neighbours had it worse than we did so I felt that obligation.

Now, years later, having heard how the snack program had sustained Jeffrey’s sister, I sobbed aloud. I hadn’t understood the role of those scrounged pennies. “One doesn’t know,” I said to myself, “what makes a difference.”

I think Jeffrey’s awful death has stuck with me, not only because of the revulsion we all feel, but also, more personally, as a neighbour who failed him.

I remember a part of the murder trial for Jeffery’s grandparents, the testimony from another neighbour, who described how one day, Jeffrey’s grandmother asked her if she would take Jeffrey, then still a baby. She considered, but refused, having no way to know the atrocity to come.

‘We didn’t know’ seems an awful, sorry excuse. Bitter lessons.

In the closing days of the inquest into Jeffrey long neglect and death, Irwin Elman, the provincial children’s advocate said  “We expect and demand more. More from the child welfare system, more from the educational system, more from the neighbours, and more from the family who stood by and watched Jeffrey starve and die…We can do better.”

Elman’s right.

What neighbourhood-based solutions would have helped?  Better snacks? Better registration and attendance records at school? The parent-child drop-in where I found solace? Neighbourliness (what sociologists describe as stronger social connections and reciprocity)? More ‘eyes on the street’? Even, just more old-fashioned nosiness? Those questions continue to gnaw at me.

Some of the answers lie in the formal and informal networks of a neighbourhood. Perhaps, the inquest’s results will tell us more.

For now, a new family, full of kids, lives in Jeffrey’s house. They know the sad history of it, but, as another neighbour explained to me, they are re-writing it, making it better this time.

We all must.

Failing Jeffrey, The Fifth Estate (45 minutes)

A short history of Jeffrey: 

Provincial Children & Youth Advocate Irwin Elman on Metro Morning, October 2013 (audio file)

Super Jeffrey Memorial, Greenwood Park

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2 Comments to “My neighbour, Jeffrey Baldwin”

  1. why are the photo’s all blurry…very unclear. I wish the photo’s weren’t so grainy to honour this travesty! I am hard pressed to comment without seething words of such bitter disgust & rage for a variety of reasons about the ineptness of the child protection system, one which would be so negligent in their dereliction of duty as to place a young child (grandparent or NOT) with known deviants but spend limitless amounts of money in litigation & apprehension of children from families with minor social or domestic issues.

    There are several faces of evil in society…but none seems more fitting of evil than the existence of Elva Bottineau & her partner. Life sentence somewhat satisfactory but still seems lenient in the vastly grievous & gross maltreatment of little Jeffrey which is purely despicable & vile. These are consciousless individuals; psychopathic grandparents. There is a HUGE culpability of FAILURE which is common amongst CAS procedures despite the immensity of legislative authorities to police FAMILIES conduct/behaviour where children are present. Monumental imbalance of powers!

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  2. A very touching and heartfelt blog. Thank you for sharing. The campaign to raise funds to have a memorial statue in Jeffrey’s image has been very successful to date. The statue will allow people to learn about Jeffrey, his tragic story, and perhaps inspire somebody to make the phone call that could save the life of another child. I hope to see many members of Jeffrey’s community at a gala event that is being held in his honour at Stirling Room on Trinity Street. An opportunity for Jeffrey’s supporters to meet, share stories and perhaps begin to heal what has deeply wounded the community. http://www.ticketpicket.com/jefferybaldwingala

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