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Worker in hallway saw no concerns, or child

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The last time Winnipeg Child and Family Services workers visited the home of Phoenix Sinclair when she was alive, they stood in the hallway, saw no protection concerns or the child, then left.

Christopher Zalevich testified Tuesday at the inquiry into her death he investigated a report Phoenix's mother may have been abusing the four-year-old girl and locking her in a bedroom. A fellow crisis-response-unit worker had gone to the home days earlier but couldn't get inside and recommended the intake unit investigate the case involving a young child with an extensive CFS file. Instead, it was returned to their unit and Zalevich. Months later, Phoenix was murdered by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather Karl "Wes" McKay. Her death wasn't discovered until 2006 and in 2011 the province ordered an inquiry into how she fell through Manitoba's child welfare safety net.

The inquiry has heard Phoenix was bounced between caregivers and apprehended twice. When Kematch took her in April 2004 and moved in with McKay, he had a criminal history of domestic violence CFS had on file.

When Zalevich went to their home with a co-worker, he didn't know about McKay living there or the last time the crisis response unit was involved.

Kematch answered her door with a "shy demeanour," Zalevich's notes said. She stood in the doorway, said she had company and wouldn't let them into the apartment. He told her about the report alleging abuse and her locking Phoenix in a bedroom.

"Samantha was curious about who called," Zalevich told the inquiry.

"When you told her about the complaint, her initial concern was 'Who made it?' and not to deny it or get upset?" asked Jeff Gindin, the lawyer representing Phoenix's biological father, Steve Sinclair, and former caregiver Kim Edwards.

"That's a common response," said Zalevich, who still works in the unit.

"She had yelled at Phoenix a few days ago and was surprised someone had heard it." Kematch assumed someone in the building called CFS, but it was the foster parent of one of her friends concerned for Phoenix's safety.

Kematch said she and Phoenix shared a bedroom with a lock on the outside of the door. Zalevich said he told her that wasn't safe if there were a fire and she agreed. He heard a baby fussing. Kematch went inside and returned with Phoenix's half-sister, who appeared healthy, happy and loved, Zalevich testified. He asked Kematch if she required any services from the agency. She said no, and he and his co-worker left. There's no record of him asking to see Phoenix or why she locked the bedroom door.

Zalevich said he didn't see any child-protection concerns.

"You were in the hallway the whole time?" Gindin asked.

"Yes," said Zalevich.

"You left without seeing the bedroom, you left without seeing Phoenix and that same day you recommended the file be closed... because you believed Phoenix was safe?" Gindin asked. "Yes," said Zalevich.

His testimony continues today.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2013 A5

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