Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Phoenix case constant reminder: ex-CEO

Speaks of reforms made since tragedy

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The man in charge of child welfare in Winnipeg when Phoenix Sinclair slipped through its safety net says Phoenix is a daily reminder to him to make sure front-line workers have what they need to keep kids safe.

"I don't think a day will go by without thinking about her," Jay Rodgers told the inquiry into the 2005 death of Phoenix, 5, who was in and out of care from the time she was born. Rodgers was the CEO of Winnipeg CFS during the last three opportunities the system had to step in and make sure Phoenix was safe.

"It happened under my watch," said Rodgers, who is now the head of the General Authority, one of four overseers of child welfare in the province including Metis Child and Family Services and Northern and Southern First Nations authorities.

"That's difficult." Rodgers said he feels responsible for the blame laid out in reports that examined the handling of her case. They listed "errors in judgment and mistakes that were made," he said.

"If mistakes were made as an organization, (then) we didn't support our staff with training, resources, advocacy -- whatever we needed to do," he said Tuesday.

"I think often, as a leader, there are things I should've or could've done in that regard to provide supports to our staff."

Rodgers said he made a vow to himself that as long as he is in a leadership role he will do more to make sure front-line workers have what they need to do their jobs.

"That's how it affected me."

The General Authority contracted with experts at the University of Manitoba to find out what practices are working in other jurisdictions to keep kids safe. They came up with "actuarial tools" that were based on a study of actual cases, rather than "consensus" tools based on what experts agree on, said Rodgers.

Actuarial tools were based on studies of more than 1,000 cases where a confirmed recurrence of child maltreatment happened. Those studies found factors that were common in all cases. Rodgers said they found a "suite of tools" at the non-profit Children's Research Center (CRC) in Wisconsin, tools in use from Australia to Alaska.

The General Authority contracted with the centre to come up with training for a Manitoba-specific safety assessment, he said. The centre provides training for agencies to use its copyrighted Structured Decision Making tools. They include assessments, checklists and instructions for workers to follow.

Now all four authorities that oversee child welfare in Manitoba have staff trainers who've been trained by the centre, said Rodgers.

"One of the benefits of SDM tools... is they crystallize concerns... what we're concerned about, what we need to do to make sure the child is safe," said Rodgers. "They focus workers on information that matters."

Detailed policies and procedures training and a consistency in interpreting information reduce worker bias, he said. Clinical decisions are arrived at more consistently, he said.

When the tools have been used on a 1,000 cases in Manitoba over three to five years, the centre will conduct a "validation study" to see if they're working, said Rodgers. He said he has no concerns about the tools having a cultural bias in Manitoba where nearly 80 per cent of the children in care are aboriginal.

"Based on my knowledge of other jurisdictions, I don't have concerns," he said. "But we're not going to know until a validation study is done," he said.

Phoenix was four when Winnipeg CFS closed the file on her in March 2005 without seeing her. She had been in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000 until she was tortured and murdered by her mother Samantha Kematch and stepfather Karl Wesley McKay in the summer of 2005.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 15, 2013 A7

History

Updated on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 6:58 AM CDT: Corrects reference to Structured Decision Making tools

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