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Child-welfare system accepts anonymous referrals, agency head tells Phoenix inquiry

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The child welfare system doesn’t balk at calls from minors or people calling anonymously to report a concern about a child, the head of the Winnipeg agency in charge of intake told the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair this morning.

"We accept referrals from any caller," said Sandie Stoker, executive director of the All Nations Coordinated Response Network (ANCR). It is the child welfare system’s first point of contact for people in the Winnipeg area.

The inquiry heard earlier from one witness who said she tried calling child-welfare officials about Phoenix but was rebuffed because the caller was a minor. Stoker, who was a front-line worker and supervisor before heading ANCR, said they’ve taken calls from children for as long as she can remember.

"We receive self-referrals from children calling us," said Stoker. "Children are often the best source of information and we know that."

Phoenix was four years old when Winnipeg CFS closed the file on her in March 2005 without seeing her. She had been in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000 until she was tortured and murdered by her mother Samantha Kematch and stepfather Karl Wesley McKay in the summer of 2005.

The provincial inquiry that began in September is trying to find out why her death wasn’t discovered until 2006, what services her family did or didn’t receive and what’s been done or needs to be done to improve Manitoba’s child welfare system. Since her death was investigated, the rules in Manitoba have changed so that children have to be seen before their file can be closed.

Stoker said it’s been a long-standing policy to accept calls from anonymous sources of referral as well as children.

The inquiry heard earlier from a foster parent of a young woman who befriended Kematch and was worried Phoenix was being abused and locked in a bedroom. The grown foster child was distrustful of CFS and scared of Kematch and asked her foster mom, who works in child welfare, to make the call about Phoenix in March 2005. The foster mom testified earlier that she was livid because the worker she spoke to didn't initially want to hear third-party information but rather wanted information directly from the source.

"I forced the issue," the witness, identified only as Source of Referral No. 7, said earlier. "I told her that if anything happened to that child, I would hold her personally responsible."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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