System to blamefor toddler's death, judge rules
Mistakes made were not criminal negligence, she says

Heath Jon McCoy - The Ottawa Citizen Online

TORONTO -- The mother of a 37-day-old infant who starved to death in a Toronto woman's shelter in June 1997 did not fail her baby -- nor did the social worker assigned to look after the child.

Instead, an inadequate social services system was to blame for the death of Jordan Heikamp, said a judge, lawyers, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing social services workers across Ontario.

"Everybody thought everybody else was taking responsibility for the child," Judge Mary Hogan said yesterday, ruling after a preliminary hearing against sending the mother, Renee Heikamp, 21, and Catholic Children's Aid Society worker Angie Martin, 43, to trial on charges of criminal negligence causing death.

Judge Hogan said everyone involved with the case -- from doctors and nurses to Ms. Martin and the women's shelter -- seemed confused as to who was taking what role in caring for the baby.

Mistakes were made all around in the case, said Judge Hogan, "but that doesn't constitute criminal negligence on the part of Ms. Martin."

As for Jordan's mother, Judge Hogan suggested she was a troubled woman, inexperienced in raising a baby. "How should Ms. Heikamp have known anything was wrong with Jordan when no one else did?" Judge Hogan asked. Several CUPE workers were on hand to support Ms. Martin.

"To send Angie to trial would've meant putting every case worker in the province on trial for a faulty system that's broken and underfunded," said Judy Darcy, CUPE national president. "Angie was being used as a scapegoat for the entire system."

Ms. Darcy cited a recent CUPE survey showing that social workers are overworked and unable to deal with their case loads properly.

"Eighty-seven per cent of case workers in the social service system report they're overworked," Ms. Darcy said.

Ms. Martin wept and hugged CUPE members as lawyer Frank Marracco spoke on her behalf.

"Our client tried to carry out her responsibilities to the best of her ability. She didn't leave the baby on her own. She left him in a government-funded facility that had professionals who were supposed to be able to look after him."

Ms. Heikamp's lawyer, Paula Rochman, defended the young mother. "Renee was in a shelter system for three years. She was just treading water to keep herself alive, never mind look after a vulnerable, premature baby that needed to be strongly monitored."

But Ms. Rochman said nothing was done by doctors or nurses to help Ms. Heikamp care for her baby.

"She was never told to take this baby to a doctor. No one sat down and talked to her about how often a baby was fed, how to breast feed. ... None of the nurses at the hospital spent time with her and the doctor never even met with her."

Ms. Heikamp was a homeless 19-year-old when she gave birth, by Caesarean section, to Jordan in a Toronto hospital in May 1997.

Medical staff did identify Jordan and his mother as high risk and turned them over to the CCAS.

Ms. Martin was assigned to monitor the family and placed them in a Toronto women's shelter, where they spent the next 27 days.

On the morning of June 23, Jordan was rushed to hospital but died on arrival, a victim of "chronic starvation."

Earlier, the National Post revealed that Ms. Martin had been involved with another controversial case in which a six-year-old boy died from drinking his recovering, heroin-addicted father's methadone-laced orange juice.

Ms. Martin had been off that case for 10 months, however, when the boy died.

My feelings on this subjext :o(

How can it be that a baby can die of starvation in a Shelter? How can it then be that no charges of any kind are brought? Is it okay to kill babies? Is it okay to just let them starve to death? How can it not be criminal negligence - murder even? Don't these places have a kitchen? Don't these places have 'meal-times' doesn't anyone say - "Yumm I'm a bit hungry, what's for dinner?" Then wouldn't anyone see the children are fed? How can a 21 year old woman not know a baby needs to be fed? Hell, I bet she stuffed her own f*cking face in those 37 days it took her baby to die of starvation - I just don't get it at all.

Even if there was a mix-up on who's responsibility it was - wouldn't a hungry baby (at first) cry? Then, once the poor thing was so weak with hunger wouldn't that very silence be shreaking even louder than any cry, that something was wrong?

At the risk of getting up anyone's nose, I do have to say - in a Christain (Catholic) Children's Aid society - how can it be that no one bothered - I know they're over stretched but surely if they can't cope they either pack it in or pay for more staff - how can they leave a baby to die because it's not their case?

I'd like to know if they had pets or house-plants in that bloody shelter - and I'd like to know if those pets and house-plants were well cared for, watered or fed, when needed... I'll bet my last breath - they'd be blooming - plants and animals are of more value than babies



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