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CFS worker feels 'isolated and avoided' after testifying at Sinclair inquiry

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The social worker who testified that documents in the Phoenix Sinclair file had been altered is now facing repercussions at her work, the inquiry into the death of the child in care heard this morning.

When asked what it has been like for her at work at Winnipeg Child and Family Service lately, Debbie DeGale started to cry.

"I’ve had a feeling of being isolated and avoided," said the woman who obtained a social work degree from the University of Manitoba in 1986 and has worked in the field for 25 years. She still works for CFS as a prior-check contact worker.

On Monday, the former crisis response unit worker with Child and Family Services told the inquiry that documents were altered and information was missing from the file on Phoenix Sinclair. When cross-examined today, she repeated what she’d said earlier: that documents she filled out in May 2004 -- the year before Phoenix was murdered by her mother Samantha Kematch -- had been changed.

DeGale said she prepared the documents after receiving troubling calls on the same day from a welfare worker concerned about Phoenix’s whereabouts and that she was at risk with either parent and a woman who claimed to be an aunt saying Phoenix was being mistreated. DeGale contacted Kematch who said she had Phoenix and when DeGale said that didn’t gibe with reports they had that Phoenix was placed by her father Steve Sinclair with friends of the family, Kematch swore at her and hung up, DeGale recalled.

The crisis response worker filled out a safety assessment and assigned the case to the intake unit for further investigation with a 24-hour response time. The inquiry learned the document was altered to indicate she assigned a less-urgent response time of 48 hours. DeGale said other notes she would’ve taken didn’t get included in the file, either.

She testified that she didn’t learn about the changes being made to her work until after the commission of inquiry was ordered by the province in 2011. Now in its sixth week of public hearings, the inquiry was set up to examine the circumstances leading up to the 2005 murder of Phoenix Sinclair and her family’s involvement with child welfare agencies.

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