Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Foster parent says warnings ignored

Tot locked in bedroom, probe told

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A foster parent who worked in child welfare and called authorities about Phoenix Sinclair being locked in a bedroom in the months before she died said no one wanted to listen.

The caller testified Thursday at the inquiry into Phoenix's death that whoever answered the phone at the Winnipeg Child and Family Services after-hours unit in March 2005 didn't want to hear concerns from a third party.

"I forced the issue," said the witness, identified only as Source of Referral No. 7. "I told her that if anything happened to that child, I would hold her personally responsible."

The inquiry into how and why Manitoba's child-welfare safety net didn't save Phoenix was ordered by the province in 2011 and began in September.

The source of referral testified Thursday their grown foster child asked them to contact CFS about how Samantha Kematch was treating her daughter, Phoenix. The foster child, Source of Referral No. 6, and another former friend of Kematch testified Wednesday they contacted CFS anonymously but felt their concerns weren't taken seriously.

Thursday, Source of Referral No. 7 said their foster child was so worried about Phoenix, the foster parent was asked to also contact CFS. The foster child expected the foster parent, being a child-welfare worker, would be believed and that concerns about Phoenix would be addressed, the inquiry heard. That expectation was dashed seconds into the call, the foster parent said.

"I started to tell the woman on the phone the concerns... but didn't get very far," the foster parent testified. "She told me to stop. She said 'I can't accept this information -- it is third-hand,' " the source told the inquiry.

"I got pretty angry with her. I told her that she would have to accept the information. It was valid and important and it was the only way she would get that information that this child was in need of protection," the witness said.

"I stated my former foster child was concerned she was hurting her and locking the bedroom door when she was leaving... and she heard sounds from behind the bedroom door," the source testified.

"I remember insisting she must have this woman somewhere in the system... I indicated that it wasn't shocking that she might be hurting the child. What was shocking was that someone had placed the child with her."

The inquiry expects to hear Monday from the intake worker who took that March 2005 call. The foster parent who made the call testified their foster child was friends with Kematch.

"She was a very broken young woman who had a very negative influence on (my foster child) and who had associations and behaviours of pretty grave concern."

The foster child, Source of Referral No. 6, testified Thursday Kematch showed Phoenix no affection and didn't want anyone else to, either.

One example was during a long walk to a friend's apartment a kilometre away and Kematch had walked ahead with the baby she had with Karl "Wes" McKay and didn't wait for Phoenix, whose boots weren't on properly.

"She just left the boots like that... so I had to fix them for Phoenix," Source of Referral No. 6 testified Thursday morning. "When I tried to hold her hand, Sam was already down the alley almost to the end, yelling back to us not to hold her hand and that 'she needs to learn to walk on her own.' "

When they got to where they were going on that March 2005 day, the witness had a camera and took a photo of Phoenix, which was shown to the inquiry. Kematch questioned the value of a photograph of Phoenix.

"She didn't seem very happy about it," the source of referral recalled. "(She said), 'Why do you want her picture?' "

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2013 A6

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