Tuesday, March 02, 1999Common ground between tragedies
The response of the Catholic CAS to two high-risk families
The Catholic Children's Aid Society social worker who is criminally charged in the shocking starvation death of a 37-day-old baby almost two years ago was also involved with another controversial case in which a six-year-old boy drank his father's methadone-laced orange juice and died.
CFTO TV / Social worker Angie Martin faces charges in the death of Jordan Heikamp, the young son of Renne Heikamp.
CFTO TV / Renne Heikamp
The National Post has confirmed that until her arrest in August of 1997 in the death of baby Jordan Heikamp, Angie Martin was also assigned to monitor the family of Rene Williams, where both the mother and father are former heroin addicts who were then on methadone programs.
The common denominator linking the two cases is the quality of supervision -- or rather, the alleged lack of it -- that was given by the agency to two families who should have been easily recognizable as being at high risk.
Ms Martin is charged with criminal negligence causing death in baby Jordan's June 23, 1997, starvation, along with the baby's young mother.
The infant died of malnutrition -- he was visibly emaciated, without a trace of food in his tiny body -- over the course of about three weeks after he and his mother, Renee, then a homeless teenager, had been reluctantly discharged from hospital only after officials there had called in the Catholic agency and satisfied themselves arrangements were in place to watch over the pair.
But, in fact, as sources close to the case said at the time of Jordan's death, it appeared the agency's supervision consisted of only two perfunctory visits, and that no one from the agency had ever seen the infant in his diaper and thus had missed noticing his increasingly wasted condition.
A preliminary hearing into the charges against Ms Heikamp, who is due to give birth to a second child any day now, and Ms Martin is still underway at Toronto's Old City Hall courts and will determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.
But Ms Martin's supervision of Rene Williams -- about a month of it at the same time she was also the worker for Jordan and his mom -- was discovered only recently.
It even came as news to the Toronto Police homicide detectives who investigated Rene's death, the Post has learned.
While police were aware of the Catholic Children's Aid extensive involvement with Rene's family -- there were myriad workers on the file over a number of years -- what they didn't know was that one of them was the same woman who had been charged in Jordan's death.
The little boy died Jan. 17, 1998, in his father's bed during a weekend visit to the west-end apartment, where Ron Hariczuk, who was estranged from Rene's mother, Yvonne Williams, was then living.
Both parents are longtime
heroin users who were on "methadone maintenance" -- methadone is a doctor-prescribed heroin substitute which eliminates withdrawal symptoms -- and was allowed to take home "carries", varying amounts of the powerful synthetic drug.
Mr. Hariczuk had mixed a quantity of methadone with the Sunny Delight orange juice which was his son's favorite drink, and on the night he died, the little boy apparently woke up thirsty, padded to the fridge, and drank the Sunny D.
Mr. Hariczuk, 44, was charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, and failing to provide the necessities of life. His brief trial -- he has pleaded not guilty, and allegedly had warned the boy not to touch anything that was in the side door of the fridge -- ended last week, with Judge Charles Vaillancourt due to render a decision on April 12.
Ms Martin's involvement in Rene's case ended with her Aug. 8, 1997, arrest in baby Jordan's death. She wasn't working the case when Rene died 10 months later.
But it appears to have been during her tenure as the main worker with Rene's family that the Catholic Children's Aid received a call from Rene's grandmother, who had phoned to report that she had seen heroin in the bedroom that Rene was then sharing with his mother.
Instead of sparking the agency to intensify its work with the family, though, the Post has learned it resulted only in a scheduled "home visit" to Ms Williams' home. Such visits are planned in advance, giving families time to prepare for them, and have been labelled unsatisfactory by coroner's inquest juries studying other deaths where a children's aid agency was involved.
In fact, the Post has learned, despite the plethora of problems with Rene's parents (his mother, with whom Rene spent most of his time, was in the habit of keeping her methadone in a brown paper bag in the vegetable crisper) and a number of warning calls that had been made to the Catholic Children's Aid (including one from a teacher at the little boy's school), the family had not been declared high risk.
In the publicity over Rene's death last summer, it was Ontario's loosely run methadone clinics -- particularly their practice of easily approving take-home "carries" for addicts who hadn't proven themselves stable -- which bore the brunt of public wrath and official scrutiny. Rene's death came four months after the Ontario Coroner's Office began a probe into the number of methadone-related deaths in the province. In the midst of that controversy, the role of the Catholic agency appeared peripheral.
But now it is clear that the agency had been involved with Rene's family for many years, opening and closing the file a number of times, the Post has learned.
Ms Martin's arrest marked only the second time in Ontario that a children's aid worker was charged in connection with a case. In 1982, three workers with the Brockville Children's Aid Society were charged after one of their young clients, a two-year-old boy, was nearly beaten to death.
The workers were eventually acquitted.
Christie Blatchford can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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