Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phoenix file fell through cracks

Social workers failed to monitor family for months, report reveals

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Phoenix Sinclair began to fall through the cracks of Manitoba's child-welfare system mere months after she was born to parents with a history of violence and substance abuse and five years before she was beaten to death.

Social workers failed to monitor the family for months at a time and failed to investigate after the girl was brought to hospital with an infection from an object that had been embedded in her nose for three months, according to a document that was only fully disclosed on Friday.

The document is a 2006 internal review of Phoenix's death by Winnipeg Child and Family Services agency. The report has been kept secret, but some portions are now being discussed at a public inquiry into the case.

"From October 2000 to the last contact with this family, actual service was almost non-existent," the review says.

"There was no recorded contact between October 2000 and February 2001, even though the service agreement signed on Sept. 5, 2000, states 'meeting with the worker on a regular basis."'

The review notes other long periods of time when social workers had no direct contact with the family in 2002 and 2003. Sections of the review that deal with the following two years leading up to Phoenix's death in 2005 remain confidential.

The five-year-old girl was killed in June 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her mother's common-law husband, Karl McKay. The couple were convicted of first-degree murder.

Phoenix died not long after she was removed from a foster care home and returned to Kematch.

The inquiry, which has heard five days of testimony so far, is examining how Phoenix was failed by child welfare despite numerous warning signs from the moment she was born in April 2000.

Her mother and biological father, Steve Sinclair, had both been in foster care and had a long list of troubles.

Kematch had stolen cars, had hung out with gang members and had run away from foster homes. Months after she turned 18 and became too old to fall under child welfare, she gave birth to Phoenix.

Sinclair was aggressive and addicted to alcohol.

Despite that, social workers tried to reunite the family after taking Phoenix from the couple days after her birth. They developed a plan that required Kematch and Sinclair to take parenting classes, visit Phoenix weekly and have an in-home support worker. Kematch was also to undergo a psychological assessment.

By Sept. 5, 2000, the girl was back with her parents on the condition that they have regular visits from social workers to ensure she was being properly cared for.

The review obtained by The Canadian Press says that didn't happen.

Starting in October, there was no recorded contact with the family for four months. A social worker did visit the family in February 2001, but that was followed by more inaction.

"There was no direct contact between Feb. 9, 2001, and July 4, 2001, even though the worker stated in a Feb. 9, 2001, meeting 'it is necessary to meet as they are an open file and we need to monitor and assess their family situation,' " the review states.

A social worker did meet with Sinclair on July 6, 2001, and committed to meet with him weekly. That plan fell by the wayside as "there appears to be no direct contact between July 6, 2001 and March 27, 2002 ... although two attempts were made," the review reads.

On Feb. 26, 2003, social workers were called by Children's Hospital. Phoenix had an object in her nose -- Kematch and McKay's murder trial was told it was Styrofoam. She had recently been handed to a family friend for care. According to the review, the object had been in the young girl's nose for three months and an infection had developed.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 B1


Updated on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 8:22 AM CST: replaces photo

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