Sunday, May 29, 2011

They Never Had A Chance

Our provincial newspaper has just wrapped up a five-part series looking at "care options available to vulnerable person with intellectual disabilities across Canada".  The series was well done (the writer, Canadian Press reporter Michael Tutton, writes a fair bit in regard to issues around persons with disabilities) and it was an interesting, albeit hard read.

From the woman in Nova Scotia whose 20-year-old grandson spent 15 days locked alone in a constantly lit room at the Braemore adult residential centre with only occasional breaks, urinating in a corner when he was unable to get a staff member’s attention...

... to the aging mother in Newfoundland who worries who will care for her severely-challenged adult son when is was no longer around to do so...

... to the 16-year-old with a severe case of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (making him impulsive, easily frustrated and with very little short-term memory) whose increasingly violent behaviour deteriorated to the point where his adoptive parents could no longer care for him in their home but whose current life in small group homes has been a disaster, allowing him to stay out all night, drinking and doing drugs...

... to the issues of aggression that can stem from poor housing options and lack of access to mental health services for those with intellectual disabilities (an issue I can personally speak to when it comes to the Blue Jay being denied access to our local child and adolescent mental health services for the simple fact that she is mentally challenged).

To the one bright spot, the what can could and should be - namely, the positive effects of housing and care options that actually work, like L'Arche.

A happy, safe home and community involvement - at some level, isn't that all any of us really want for our children when they mature into adults, whether they be mentally challenged or not?

And yet, I write not about any of those stories today. 

Instead I write about a baby boy "who never had a chance". 

His young mother squatted on the bathroom floor to deliver him while the baby's father stood in the doorway, smoking a cigarette and ignoring her pleas to call an ambulance. Finally she reached over to the bathroom sink, grabbed a pair of scissors she believes her boyfriend used for his dope and cut the umbilical cord.
The baby wasn’t crying. She left him on the floor, went out into the living room, sat on the chesterfield and watched television as Cunningham cleaned up the bathroom.

The infant was dead at birth, she said. "He wasn’t crying or breathing or nothing."

Oickle testified at Cunningham’s preliminary inquiry last December that she saw Cunningham put the baby into a box and then put the box in a derelict oven in the hallway outside their apartment.

The body stayed in the oven for five days until family members found out about the birth and persuaded Oickle to take the baby to nearby Queens General Hospital.
As sad (and depraved) as this is, unfortunately, it's not uncommon. And, thus, it was this part of the story that really grabbed and held my attention.
A neuropsychological assessment and a forensic report found Oickle fit to stand trial and criminally responsible for her actions, although she has an extremely low IQ — in the bottom one percentile of the population — and limited coping and problem-solving skills.

Bryson said those factors help explain Oickle’s actions.

Defence lawyer Franceen Romney, who represented Oickle, said the assessment shows Oickle is able to handle routine situations but not complex ones. In such cases, her reasoning, judgment and ability to make decisions are impaired.
An IQ in the bottom one percentile of the population means that this young woman "officially" qualifies as being "mentally challenged".

Given that we have no information about the boyfriend's "mental capacity", I can make no judgment in that regard although I must admit that a great deal of my anger is directed against him. He who callously stood by and refused to make a simple phone call (or even allow his girlfrind to do so) while his own child was dropped onto a bathroom floor and then scrubbed up that same floor, placed the baby's dead body in a box and leaving it in a derelict oven in the hallway of their apartment building.

I am deeply saddened by this young woman's story.  Fortunately, some sort of justice seems to have prevailed in that although she was convicted of failing to obtain assistance during childbirth, she was placed on probation for three years, during which time she must have no contact with her boyfriend, get mental health counselling and live with her parents.

Am I too easily "letting her off the hook" for her actions?

Or am I looking at my own 18-year-old daughter, with similar ability levels, for whom I fear a society that would just as easily manipulate and hurt her?  I must admit that I think that being "forced "to live with her parents is likely the best thing that could possibly happen to this young woman. 

After all, what other options are there for her?


Pogue said...

"I must admit that I think that being 'forced' to live with her parents is likely the best thing that could possibly happen to this young woman."

Depends on the parents. That story sounds sad all around.

MMC said...

Agree. Very, very sad, Pogue.

tam said...

I don't know if living with her parents will a good thing or not. Where were her parents when all of this took place? How could they stand by and watch their daughter in such a controlling/abusive relationship? Maybe they did try to intervene; I don't really know.

It's a heartbreaking story on so many levels. I cried when I read it in the paper and I cried again reading it with you.

MMC said...

I guess my main point was this - looking at the five-part series in the Chronicle at the beginning of the post, what other options (other than living with her parents) are really available to this woman?