Her heart brims over with children

scotto

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Feb 15, 2004
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I visited Jack Kemp today and he showed me this story of his daughter, don't know how I missed this one.
Posted with permission from the Hamilton Spectator.
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September 20, 2007
Suzanne Bourret
The Hamilton Spectator
(Sep 20, 2007)
The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.

Each of them is Jesus in disguise.

-- Mother Teresa

How do you cope with seeing an eight-month-old baby who isn't getting enough to eat, a four-year-old beaten to death by an abusive father, and angry young people who have been abused?

You shed a lot of tears in your bed at night, says Beatrice Kemp, the recently retired executive director of the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Hamilton.

"But you have to focus on the hope that we offer children," says the Dundas resident.

Some of what she has seen during her 29 years as a social worker has been heartbreaking. But the strength and compassion gained from her spiritual life has lifted her from the darkness she has encountered.

Beatrice has found children have a remarkable resilience.

"I can remember a young person in our care with strong anger issues because of the abuse and neglect she suffered.

"She was placed with a loving foster family and she blossomed under their care. Today, she is a beautiful, caring and loving young woman."

As a young social worker, Beatrice was unprepared for some of the cases she encountered.

In one, the baby she saw was always clean and peacefully sleeping when she visited, but the parents seemed unusually fearful. That worried her.

She asked a public health nurse to visit. The nurse rushed the boy to the hospital after finding a weak pulse, paleness and cold hands and feet.

Eventually, the parents admitted feeding the baby watered-down formula because grocery money went to their gambling habit.

Some years later, Beatrice was thrilled to see a healthy, active boy who was loved by his adoptive parents.

"I learned in this instance to trust my instincts and how critical it is to take every precaution in assessing risk, particularly with infants and young children," says Beatrice.

She acknowledges how important it is to seek the expertise of other health professionals.

In 1985, when she became assistant executive director, she developed guidelines to ensure child welfare worked in partnership with other community services in investigating and assessing abuse and neglect.

In her younger years, Beatrice -- although she didn't know it at the time -- was grooming herself for a tough job that would be painful.

After attending Cathedral Girls' high school and Notre Dame Academy in Waterdown, she joined the Hamilton Sisters of St. Joseph to be a nun. She was just 17.

Beatrice stayed for seven years, then left because it wasn't her calling.

She earned a social work degree at McMaster University. And her master's at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Eventually, she met up again with Karl Kinanen, her former social work professor at McMaster. She married him 15 years ago.

Her sadness still resonates for that four-year-old beaten to death.

"The tragic circumstances of her life had a profound effect on me ...

"Over the years, I've cried many times thinking about this little girl and she continues to live in my heart."

But, there are other, positive memories that sustain her.

A six-year-old who frequently had been left alone to care for herself and younger siblings was angry and hurt.

Without the care she needed for herself, she became destructive and out of control. But with a stable and secure family, she slowly blossomed and today is a caring and loving mother.

One young mother involved in a violent relationship and drugs had a baby who suffered the effects of those drugs.

The odds were against the mother ever parenting her baby, but she faithfully visited him in his foster home, learned how to care for him and turned her life around.

About 10 months later, she was able to take her son home and became a responsible parent.

Beatrice says her years at the CCAS have been an amazing journey.

Offering hope, compassion and healing to ensure that needy children receive the benefit of their spiritual heritage has been an important goal.

But she knows changes are needed:

She wants to see children's aid societies become more effective at helping the public understand the complex and challenging nature of the work.

She says the negative press they receive in high-profile abuse cases doesn't reflect the complexities. Social workers, she says, are often at a disadvantage because all the facts of a case cannot be disclosed.

"The challenge we continue to face in child welfare is how to protect children who are at risk while preserving the family unit, how to respect the rights of parents while the rights of children remain paramount and deciding when children should be brought into care and when they can be safely left at home."

Beatrice was honoured by 250 people at a reception on Tuesday evening at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

By request, her gifts were donations to the Beatrice Kemp Foundation in support of CCAS. But she was presented with a surprise gift -- her favourite painting of Mother Teresa surrounded by children that had hung outside the CCAS boardroom for the past 10 years.

sbourret@thespec.com

905-526-3305

Photo- Ted Brellisford, the Hamilton Spectator.
Recently retired Beatrice kemp has known heartbreak and joy during her 29 years as a social worker. As her husband Karl Kinanen, embraces her, a crowd of family members pays tribute to her expertise and compassion.
 
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