A 10-year-old boy rescued from horrific living conditions in London, Ont., told police there are two things he really wants — some regular food and to go school — signs that he is a "child with resilience," the Children's Aid Society says.
The boy, who police say had been locked in a squalid bedroom for at least 18 months and was wearing urine-soaked pyjamas when they found him Friday, is now in foster care.
"The fact that the first thing he wanted was to go to school, I think, is a very positive sign that this is a child with resilience," Jane Fitzgerald, executive director of the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex, told CBC News on Saturday.
The boy is now with caretakers who specialize in looking after children who have been traumatized.
"He's sleeping well, eating well [and] he's interacting with some of the other children in the foster home."
The boy was malnourished after living on fast food in the garbage-strewn home.
The boy's aunt and uncle have been charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life and forcible confinement.
The two also have a nine-year-old daughter in the care of the Children's Aid Society. The names of the two children are being withheld to protect their identity.
Fitzgerald says the girl is doing well and "also socializing with the other children in her foster home."
She says the children have medical appointments the next week. The CAS will also go to court next week to seek an order of protection to make sure the boy remains in the organization's care.
Police say the boy had lived with his aunt and uncle since coming to Canada in 2010.
They say his parents live outside the country and they have been unable to contact them.
Boy spends 'a lot of time sleeping'
The boy was discovered after an anonymous tip to the Children's Aid Society. An aid worker visited the house, but no one was home. She saw the silhouette of the boy through the curtain and called police.
Police said the boy has never been to school and speaks minimal English. He was not born in Canada, they believe. His biological parents are not in Canada at the moment. Police are not releasing the boy's country of origin because it might identify him.
Police said there is no evidence that the couple's biological child was confined inside the house. The boy had access to a toilet and shower, but the entire house was "filthy," they said.
'I think he spent a lot of time sleeping. There was a window in the room, so I think that's how he was, at least, somewhat connected to the world.' - Jane Fitzgerald, CAS London
"In the bedroom there was feces, urine. The bed was soaked in urine, as was the child's pyjamas when he was found," said London police Det.-Insp. Kevin Heslop.
The boy was fed fast food twice a day, but not usually permitted to leave the room. Police suspect the boy may have been let out of the room briefly in 2013.
"I think he spent a lot of time sleeping," noted Fitzgerald. "There was a window in the room, so I think that's how he was, at least, somewhat connected to the world."
Neighbours expressed shock after learning of the boy's existence.
"My heart was broken. I couldn't believe it," one neighbour said. "I felt so sad because I walk by the house every day. The little boy could have been waving for help and I didn't know."
A teenager who lived in the house next door said she had seen a man and woman and even the girl on occasion, but not the boy.
The house had a playset in the backyard with a swing and a slide, which the girl could be seen playing on occasionally, but the boy authorities found was never seen, the neighbour said.
"We had no idea that he was up there. We had no idea that he was even in that house," the 16-year-old said.
"It seemed like a pretty normal house. We never would have suspected something like that."
Similarities to Jeffrey Baldwin case
In a news release, police said they've had no previous dealings with the occupants of the house where the 10-year-old was found. However, in 2007, the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex had "brief contact" with the family regarding another child who no longer lives in the home.
The case has some similarities to that of Jeffrey Baldwin, a Toronto boy locked for long stretches of time in a cold, fetid room by his grandparents and so severely starved that when he died in 2002, just shy of his sixth birthday, his weight was that of a 10-month-old.
- Jeffrey Baldwin inquest urges unifying child-protection agencies
- Many people failed Jeffrey Baldwin, inquest jury told
- Jeffrey Baldwin and his sister called 'pigs' at home
In Jeffrey's case, some of his siblings, who also lived with their grandparents, were not subjected to the same neglect and abuse. Like this boy, Jeffrey was also not enrolled in school.
Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, noted how the recommendations that came out of the Jeffrey Baldwin coroner's inquest earlier this year stressed that protecting kids is not only the job of children's aid societies, but is "every citizen's responsibility."
Elman sees many similarities between the two cases, but one big difference.
"I think that's important to recognize that in this situation a member of the public, it seems, came forward with a concern and to me that speaks to the recommendations about child protection not being in the sole purview of the child welfare system," he said.
"This person who made the call, who expressed a concern, may very well have saved a child's life."