Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New story of CFS neglect exposed at Phoenix probe

Baby given back to alcoholic dad

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The inquiry into what happened to Phoenix Sinclair heard another chapter Friday of how she was rescued, shuffled along, then let down -- again by the child welfare system.

The probe tracing the events from her birth in 2000 to her death in 2005 got to the troubled summer of 2003 on Friday.

That June, three-year-old Phoenix was taken into care during a weekend drinking party at the home of her father, Steve Sinclair. Four months later, without any record of a reasonable explanation, social worker Stan Williams returned Phoenix to her dad with the blessing of his supervisor.

"At the time, I believed Stan knew his client best and believed what he was telling us," Heather Edinborough testified Friday.

It was the second time this week the inquiry heard about a social worker assigned to Phoenix's case who didn't see the little girl or take decent notes.

And for the third time, a supervisor testified all the notes they took on the Phoenix Sinclair case have disappeared.

"I'm surprised," said Edinborough. The retiree said she kept notes of the meetings she had with Williams about the case in binders that she left with the agency, but the notes have disappeared.

Edinborough recalled she assigned Williams to the case because she hoped he would be able to connect with Sinclair. Williams was an aboriginal man who practised his culture, Edinborough said. Sinclair was an aboriginal man who'd been raised in care, had bad experiences as a foster child and wanted nothing to do with CFS.

"My hope was Stan's approach and his being aboriginal might meet with less resistance from Steve than had previously been the case," Edinborough said.

Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, left Sinclair two years earlier after they had a second baby, Echo, who died in 2001 of a respiratory infection.

Sinclair was left with his grief, Phoenix, and a drinking problem. After CFS apprehended Phoenix from her dad in June, Williams' plan was for Sinclair to get addictions treatment so he would be able to resume parenting Phoenix, she said.

Edinborough can't remember much about 2003 but she said she does remember supervising Williams, who died a few years ago.

"Stan would lean forward in his seat and lock eyes with me and he would advocate for clients," she recalled Friday, wiping away tears.

"He would cite their strengths and what they'd overcome, while still acknowledging where there were things that needed to occur. It was evident to me we shared a lot of the same attitudes and beliefs and hope for kids and families and this work."

Williams wasn't able to convince Sinclair to get help with his drinking, but returned Phoenix to his care that October anyway.

"I didn't question his decision as much as I wish I would have," said Edinborough, who signed off on the plan.

Williams' handwritten case notes are sketchy and vague. They don't explain why he let a court order expire that kept Phoenix in a safe place and why there was no plan for after she was returned to her father, she said.

The first time Phoenix was apprehended from the hospital when she was born, a service agreement was put in place to spell out the conditions of her return to her parents.

In 2003, there was no such agreement to say what was expected of Sinclair or what the agency would do to help him. The single-parent dad didn't get any help with his drinking or parenting or have to comply with any conditions that he get help.

The file was closed in November. It was opened again the following January in 2004 when child welfare learned Phoenix was no longer in the care of her dad.

In 2005, Phoenix was murdered by her mother. Her death was discovered in 2006 and the province called an inquiry in 2011. It begins its fifth week of hearings Monday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2012 A7

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