A witness broke down on the stand today at the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair.
Retired Winnipeg Child and Family Services supervisor Heather Edinborough stifled sobs as she recalled the one social worker she believed had a strong chance of making a breakthrough with the troubled family.
She assigned to the family's case Stan Williams, an aboriginal man who practised his culture and might have been able to connect with Phoenix's single-parent dad, Steve Sinclair.
Phoenix had recently been apprehended from Sinclair's care during a weekend party that involved heavy drinking at their home in June 2003. Sinclair, who had himself been raised in care and had bad experiences as a foster child, wanted nothing to do with CFS.
"My hope was Stan's approach and his being aboriginal might meet with less resistance from Steve than had previously been the case," Edinborough said.
Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, had left Sinclair two years earlier and the agency wanted Sinclair to accept some help so he would be able to resume parenting his daughter, Edinborough said.
Edinborough said she can't remember much about 2003 but she does remember supervising the case handled by Williams, who died a few years ago.
"Stan would lean forward in his seat and lock eyes with me and he would advocate for clients," she recalled, wiping away tears.
"He would cite their strengths and what they'd overcome while still acknowledging where there were things that needed to occur. It was evident to me we shared a lot of the same attitudes and beliefs and hope for kids and families and this work."
Williams wasn't able to convince Sinclair to get help for his drinking and to care for his daughter.
Phoenix remained in foster care until she was returned Kematch, a final time in 2004 — the year before the girl, then five, was beaten to death by Kematch and her boyfriend. Her murder was discovered in 2006.
The province called the inquiry into the death of the little girl to see if and how the child welfare system had failed her and her family.
Edinborough's testimony continues this afternoon.