Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parents followed rules to get baby back

Nothing 'unusual' about young couple

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On the surface, everything looked good at the home of baby Phoenix Sinclair's parents. Their Magnus Avenue suite was "neat and tidy." The young couple was poor but seemed in love and was doing everything necessary to get their baby back from child welfare authorities.

In September 2000, five-month-old Phoenix was returned to her young and troubled parents because they appeared "motivated and committed," Kerri-Lynn Greeley testified Thursday at the inquiry into the little girl's death in 2005. The former social worker for Child and Family Services oversaw the return of Phoenix to Samantha Kematch, 19, and Steve Sinclair, 20.

Twelve years later, she can't remember details but, from reviewing the files and her notes, saw there was nothing "unusual" about the couple. Nor was there anything to convince her Phoenix wouldn't be safe with them, said Greeley, who now works as a child-abuse investigator for another agency.

She was not safe with her mother. Five years later, Kematch and her partner, Karl McKay, killed Phoenix.

When Phoenix was born, Kematch had already lost one child to authorities. Kematch hid both her pregnancies. She was abused as a child and raised in foster care. Her CFS file showed her to be a violent, promiscuous, angry teen who had substance-abuse issues and hung out with gang members. But that didn't mean she couldn't be a good parent to Phoenix, Greeley testified Thursday.

Greeley said she met with the couple once a month. The parents attended weekly visits with Phoenix and completed a parenting program at the Andrews Street Family Centre -- all conditions they had to meet before they could get Phoenix back.

A support worker visited their home twice a week to mentor them on how to prepare for and care for the baby, Greeley said. The worker reported they were doing well and their place was "neat and tidy."

Greeley said a worker at the Boys and Girls Club who'd taken the young couple under her wing also provided her with information. She said Nikki Taylor would convey messages to Kematch and Sinclair, who spent time at the club and didn't have a phone. The Boys and Girls Club staffer never indicated any concerns about substance abuse or domestic abuse, Greeley said.

She heard only positive reports about the couple, she told the inquiry, including from the psychiatrist who assessed Kematch. CFS sought the assessment because Kematch seemed depressed. Dr. Gary Altman assessed Kematch and met with Sinclair and Phoenix at Greeley's office more than a week after the baby was returned to them.

Altman said Kematch was more of a "closed book" when dealing with people, than she was depressed, Greeley said, reviewing her notes from a discussion with him. Altman said the couple spoke about loving each other. "He feels, for now, they are committed to one another and parenting," Greeley's notes said.

The social worker wrote in her transfer assessment for Phoenix's file the psychiatrist didn't see any need for further assessment of Kematch.

Inquiry counsel Derek Olson said Altman, who will testify Monday, has denied saying Kematch required no further assessment. Greeley said at that time she didn't make a note of Altman saying no further assessment was needed but later recalled him saying it and wrote it in Phoenix's file.

Olson questioned Greeley about not delving into Kematch's abuse issues and for only having one visit with the parents and Phoenix after she was returned to them. She was also questioned about not ordering a formal parental assessment and never popping in on them unexpectedly to see how they were making out with the baby.

Greeley said the couple was "typical" of the families her agency dealt with, they were meeting the conditions set out by CFS, and she was their social worker for a month after they got Phoenix back. Greeley quit her job that October. She learned about Phoenix's death when she was on a maternity leave and thought the name sounded familiar.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2012 A11

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