Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CFS worker trusted baby's dad

She failed to check claim Phoenix was well cared for

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Social worker Delores Chief Abigosis's short career with Winnipeg Child and Family Services started with the Phoenix Sinclair file and ended eight months later with the tragic death of Phoenix's baby sister, Echo.

"A death of a child is traumatic for me as an individual, as a worker and as mother," she testified Monday at the inquiry into Phoenix's death.

The girl was tortured and beaten to death in 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her boyfriend, Carl MacKay. Both were convicted of first-degree murder.

On Monday, Abigosis couldn't recall the events between 2000 and 2001, nor could she explain gaps in the file when there was no record of her doing any work on the case for months.

She started in November 2000, inherited the file on Phoenix and was supposed check on the child and her parents, Kematch and Steve Sinclair, to make sure they obeyed conditions of a six-month contract with CFS to keep custody of Phoenix. Phoenix was apprehended at birth in April 2000 from her troubled, young and unprepared parents after hospital staff learned Kematch had a previous baby apprehended and had hidden both pregnancies.

They got Phoenix back in September 2000 and were supposed to meet regularly with a social worker, take parenting classes and have an in-home support worker mentor them twice a week.

Abigosis didn't have any record of seeing the family or doing anything to reach out to them from November until February 2001.

She agreed with commission counsel Derek Olson that it was her responsibility to make sure they met the conditions of the service agreement and that Phoenix was OK. She couldn't explain why an in-home support worker stopped helping the family.

Last week, the in-home support worker, Marie Pickering (formerly Belanger), testified at the inquiry that she sent a letter to CFS saying her contract with Phoenix's family was about to expire. Her letter requested that if the contract was renewed, she'd like to keep working with the family. Abigosis couldn't say why there's no record of a CFS response to it.

"I don't recall," she testified.

The young parents were expected to have an in-home support worker mentoring them until March 5, 2001. The in-home support worker's contract ended so she stopped helping the couple.

On Feb. 5, 2001, Abigosis met with her supervisor to do a case review and left with a plan to contact the family as soon as possible to check on Phoenix.

"The difficulty was finding the family at home," Abigosis told the inquiry. She went on Feb. 7 and they were just leaving, so she made an appointment to return two days later. Phoenix was there and seemed "clean and content" but Kematch was "angry and annoyed" at a CFS worker being there, Abigosis's notes showed.

The next note on the file wasn't until April 30 after Kematch gave birth to Echo. Abigosis didn't know Kematch was pregnant, the inquiry heard. She didn't try to see the couple or the baby until May 9, even though she knew their troubled history and the risk was high with two babies.

Abigosis got a note from another social worker in June saying Kematch was with her client who went missing for two days and there was no sign of the baby. Kematch had left Sinclair and the babies, and accused him of assault, the files showed. Abigosis's supervisor emailed her on June 29 to say the crisis-response unit had a call about Sinclair caring for the baby and having a drinking problem. Phoenix was supposedly with Sinclair's family or her godmother Kim Edwards. No one checked to make sure she was OK.

On July 4, another CFS worker went to Sinclair's home and spoke to him, saw that the place was clean and learned he was getting help with the two children. On July 6, Abigosis went to the home herself and saw Sinclair caring for baby Echo, but not Phoenix. He said she was being well cared for by friends.

"I took him at his word," said Abigosis who didn't check to see if they were appropriate caregivers.

On July 15, Echo died of a respiratory infection. Abigosis was told Phoenix was staying with Sinclair's sister. The social worker's last note on the file was on July 24 in which she gave two week's notice of her resignation.

Her testimony continues today.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2012 B1


Updated on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 9:39 AM CST: adds Cover it Live

1:06 PM: changes headline back to print-edition version

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