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Longtime friend of Phoenix's father on stand at Sinclair inquiry

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CFS worker in Phoenix case 'isolated and avoided' at work

THE social worker who testified that documents in the Phoenix Sinclair file were altered is facing repercussions at work, an inquiry was told Tuesday.

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

"I've had a feeling of being isolated and avoided," said DeGale, who still works for CFS as a prior-check contact worker.

On Monday, the former crisis-response unit worker testified that documents she prepared in May 2004 were altered and information was missing from the file on Phoenix Sinclair.

The girl was slain by her mother and mother's boyfriend in 2005 when she was five years old.

DeGale said the response time on her safety assessment of Phoenix was changed to 48 hours from 24 hours and initialled by her supervisor, Diana Verrier.

On Tuesday, Verrier denied altering or removing anything from the social worker's report.

"It would be unethical to remove anything from a report," Verrier testified from Calgary in a video link to the public hearing.

Verrier, who no longer works in child welfare, has no recollection of the case.

After reviewing the file before testifying and seeing only concerns about "neglect" and "substance abuse" listed, Verrier said a 48-hour response would have been more "reasonable" than a 24-hour response.

Verrier said she was likely correcting an error DeGale had made in requesting a check on Phoenix within 24 hours. "It looks to me like a mistake that was corrected," said Verrier.

DeGale testified earlier she deliberately requested a 24-hour response because she believed Phoenix was in a "high-risk" situation.

"I don't know that I agree it was high-risk," said Verrier. "There certainly were risks."

DeGale testified Monday that in May 2004 -- a year before Phoenix was slain -- she received two troubling calls on the same day about Phoenix. A welfare worker called to share concerns about Phoenix's whereabouts and worried she was at risk with either parent. A woman claiming to be an aunt called with similar concerns, saying Phoenix was being mistreated.

DeGale said notes she would have taken didn't get included in the file. She said she didn't learn about the changes made to her work until reviewing it after the inquiry was ordered in 2011.

Verrier is expected to continue her testimony Thursday.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 12, 2012 A9

History

Updated on Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10:15 AM CST: changes headline, adds cover it live

11:49 AM: adds photo

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