Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Toddler treated like a chess piece

Taken from loving foster family, given to relative -- a stranger

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GAGE Guimond died shortly after being removed from the loving foster family who had cared for him for a year.

To put that in perspective -- one year is exactly half the length of time the Winnipeg toddler was allowed to live.

He was yanked from his foster family by the First Nations of Southern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority, hell-bent on putting into practice their written policy of family reunification.

That's a laudable concept in principle and sure to warm the cockles of anyone who favours politically correct optics over the needs of an individual child.

Gage was taken from his foster parents and sent to live with Shirley Guimond, a great-aunt on his birth mother's side. She was a stranger to him.

Six weeks later, Gage was dead, battered so severely a police spokesman said it would be too upsetting to describe his injuries.

There is a lineup of people who failed little Gage Guimond. At the head of the list is whoever decided this vulnerable child belonged in the home of a distant relation, and not with the couple who was raising him in a secure, safe family.

Shirley Guimond, the great-aunt, has been charged with assault causing bodily harm. Those charges may be upgraded.

His foster mother is bereft that the happy-go-lucky boy she grew to love has been killed.

"He was our heart song. He was the happiest, happiest kid you've ever met. He was so easygoing," she said Tuesday morning, her voice wracked with sobs.

"We've just lost a child," she said in a whisper. "We're the saddest people in the world."

She and her husband were at the hospital when Gage's life-support system was unplugged.

They have given his blanket to Beverley Beardy, Gage's grandmother, to be placed in his casket. He was as much their child as he was anyone else's.

In his short life, Gage Guimond lived briefly with his now 17-year-old mom, Natasha Guimond. She turned him over to Beardy, the boy's paternal grandmother. Beardy lost custody when CFS workers paid a visit and discovered she had gone out drinking, leaving the baby in the nominal charge of other relatives.

From there, Gage went to another home briefly. He was then paired with the foster family, who live outside of Winnipeg. They have three children of their own.

Beardy, 46, has 11 children ranging in age from 15 to 27. She also has 13 grandchildren.

Gage was fathered by Beardy's son Michael. Of Beardy's many children, only the 17-year-old lives with her.

This is a family defined by poverty, involvement with social assistance and the child welfare system. Beardy's mother, Mary Sinclair, says one of her other daughters has 11 children in care.

It is to this family, specifically Beverley Beardy, to whom CFS was eventually hoping to return the two-year-old boy.

The foster parents were told repeatedly that the child would be returned to his grandmother. Time and time again they prepared for the wrenching pain of handing the child back. Time and time again there was a reprieve.

They never suspected a distant relative might be used as a kind of halfway house. It all seems like madness, even as Beardy sits in her inner-city house, surrounded by ragged stuffed toys and clasping her arms.

A studio portrait of Gage with his foster family is taped to the wall. The foster mom would send letters telling her how the toddler was progressing. "They are nice people," says Beardy. "They were there at the end."

There's no doubting the sincerity of this grandmother's grief. "I could have taken care of him," she says. "CFS should never have taken him."

Until Beardy was ready, Shirley Guimond was deemed a good enough substitute by CFS.

There seems little doubt there is something terribly wrong with a foster-care system that wrenches a little boy away from a loving home he has known for most of his life, that puts him in the hands of a stranger and that, belatedly, dedicates all its energies to his case only after his death.

What happened to Gage Guimond is a crime. Someone must be charged with depraved indifference for tossing this toddler into the arms of a woman who didn't know or love him.

Policy be damned. These are not chess pieces. They're children.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Lindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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