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Phoenix files disappeared

Current CEO 'can't explain' situation

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Boxes of notes from supervisors at Winnipeg Child and Family Services from more than a decade ago have been located, but all those related to Phoenix Sinclair have vanished, the inquiry into her death heard Wednesday.

"I can't explain what happened to the records," said Alana Brownlee, the chief executive officer of Winnipeg CFS, who organized a hunt for the notes in the summer of 2011.

That was after the province formally announced the commission of inquiry to find out how the little girl, who died in 2005, slipped through Manitoba's child-welfare safety net.

Phoenix was involved with CFS from the time she was born in 2000, when she was taken into care until CFS last closed the file on her in March 2005. She died that summer, but her death wasn't discovered until 2006, and the province promised an inquiry.

In 2008, Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl (Wes) McKay, were convicted of her murder.

In 2011, Brownlee tried to track down supervisors' notes at the request of a former supervisor trying to jog her memory about her involvement in the case.

Angie Balan was one of a few supervisors who testified earlier they left their notes in binders in their offices so they'd be handy for whomever replaced them. Not all the supervisors took or kept notes, the inquiry has heard.

Brownlee said there was no policy governing supervisors' note-taking until 2004. Once there was a policy, not all supervisors followed it in the same way.

"There (were) discrepancies," she said.

Supervisor Andy Orobko testified earlier he took his notes with him when he left CFS and destroyed them five years later. Another supervisor, Doug Ingram, told the inquiry he didn't really take notes, and he shredded whatever he jotted down.

Note-keeping was all over the place, and so was the agency, the inquiry has heard.

During part of the time Phoenix and her family were involved with CFS, departments at the child-welfare agency were reorganized and moved. Months after her file was closed for the last time in March 2005, devolution occurred. That resulted in CFS downsizing as aboriginal agencies were set up to take over many of its cases.

Six years later, Brownlee sent out emails to other supervisors and administrative staff and spoke to managers hoping to track down supervisor notes related to Phoenix. None was found, she said.

A physical search of the archives was conducted, she said. Boxes and boxes of notes taken by the supervisors who were involved with Phoenix's file were found, but none had to do with the little girl and her troubled family.

"I did not find any supervisory notes specific to this case," said Brownlee.

The notes could explain why certain decisions were made and how cases such as Phoenix's were overseen. The inquiry has heard supervisors signed off on closing the file on Phoenix several times without seeing the child or ensuring she was safe.

The inquiry heard earlier that Phoenix wasn't seen for several months when Delores Chief-Abigosis was her family services worker in 2000 and 2001. Chief-Abigosis was supervised by Angie Balan and had at least 26 meetings with her supervisor, according to a daybook of Balan's found in the archives.

None of Balan's notes from those supervisory sessions concerning Phoenix have been located, said Brownlee.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 A4

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