Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Danger signs all there when baby died in '93

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It has been 15 years since eight-month-old Nathaniel Meeches was removed from a caring foster home in Winnipeg, handed over to family members on a reserve and, just 29 days later, killed.

When he was taken off life support, his foster parents were the only ones present at the hospital.

The parallels between his short life and brutal death and that of slain toddler Gage Guimond are stunning.

The two babies share a physical resemblance -- and so much more.

They were born to mothers with addictions. They were sent to live with experienced foster families who were thrilled to have them in their homes.

Shortly after being shunted to culturally appropriate relatives, they died of massive injuries.

Nathaniel's 1995 inquest report clearly details the extent of the abuse that preceded his death. A doctor noted bruising on his left cheek, behind the right ear and over the left eye, hemorrhaging in one eye, swelling of the optic nerve and three separate leg fractures.

Despite a wealth of evidence, no one was ever charged in Nathaniel's death.

Gage Guimond's great-aunt has been charged with manslaughter in his death.

Donna and Neil Ames, Nathaniel's foster parents, still mourn him. They've kept his baby book, a collection of photos of a laughing infant with a shock of black hair. The book also holds the sympathy cards they received after the infant was killed.

The couple are outraged that Gage Guimond died 15 years after their Nathaniel, a tragedy they say could have been prevented if the child welfare system had addressed their concerns so many years earlier.

"I just feel so frustrated. I'm not looking to blame CFS or the native agencies," Neil Ames said Friday. "But it just seems like a slap in the face, that Nathaniel died for nothing. His death didn't teach anyone anything."

The inquest into Nathaniel's death, which preceded the devolution of child welfare agencies, was critical of the Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services.

The agency made no visits to the home of the baby's aunt and uncle after they placed him there.

Inexplicably, the baby's 13-page inquest report did not contain a list of recommendations to prevent further tragedies.

"It's history repeating itself over and over again," said Neil Ames. "Nothing has changed."

Donna Ames, who has been fostering with her husband since 1992, said the system remains a mess. The three children she now has in her home have different social workers. She said she rarely sees them.

"We believe there should be unscheduled visits to foster homes," she said. "We think kids should be taken to doctors and examined before they're handed over to family. Someone needs to document things."

The couple said that after a recent edict came down that all children in care had to be seen by their workers, they experienced "a flurry of visits."

More recently, they've been waiting two weeks to just get a phone call returned by one of the social workers.

"At one time, we didn't even know who one of the workers was," Neil Ames said.

Not long after Nathaniel was killed, the Ameses prepared a lengthy document to present at a meeting of child welfare workers and officials.

It included the notion of unscheduled visits, mandatory physicals before children are moved, education around the issues of FAS and a strong suggestion that foster children, particularly those with special needs, only be placed in two-parent homes.

They feel their pleas fell on deaf ears.

"Nathaniel died for nothing. When they list all the children killed in care, his name doesn't even come up. It's like there's a cut-off point and he died too long ago for people to even count him," Donna Ames said.

She chokes back tears.

"This was a real little boy, just like Gage. You just have to wonder how long it will take before they forget his name too."

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Lindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2008

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