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Downsizing and devolution didn’t help Phoenix Sinclair, inquiry hears

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Downsizing and devolution in 2005 may have played a role in five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair slipping through Manitoba's child-welfare safety net, the inquiry into her death heard today.

Getting more staff to help with the high volume of child-welfare cases like hers was "difficult," said Dan Berg, an assistant program manager from 2003 to 2005.

"Winnipeg Child and Family Services downsized during the devolution process," he told the inquiry into the death of the little girl. The inquiry was ordered by the province in 2011. Phoenix was in and out care from the time she was born in 2000. She was murdered in 2005 by her mother Samantha Kematch and stepfather Karl "Wes" McKay who were convicted in 2008.

The last time Winnipeg CFS had anything to do with Phoenix's case in March 2005, the workers didn't see her but closed her file. The inquiry has heard that social workers closed her file several times during her short life without seeing her or checking on McKay and his violent, lengthy CFS file. Berg said there was no way at the time workers could read every file, or see every child inside every home.

"It was impossible because of workload."

At that time, CFS was devolving as aboriginal child welfare authorities were established and Winnipeg CFS cut back its staff, said Berg.

Commissioner Ted Hughes asked Berg what he did when he discovered workload was a such problem. He said he reported it to his manager who was able to get some help for the units.

"We got additional staff over summer breaks."

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Updated on Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 6:12 PM CST: Tweaks headline

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