Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Policy on keeping notes unclear

Files should've been safeguarded: Tory

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WINNIPEG Child and Family Services has had a written policy on the creation and storage of caseworker supervisors' notes since before Phoenix Sinclair's slaying in 2005.

But the policy, obtained by the Free Press, reads more like a list of recommendations than a set of requirements. It raises questions as to whether supervisors' notes were, in fact, expected to be preserved in their original form.

The inquiry has heard the notes of four supervisors have either been wilfully destroyed or simply vanished.

A government source said the Winnipeg CFS supervisor guideline, implemented in March 2004, serves as a template for other CFS agencies.

The policy details the supervisor's role, the rights and responsibilities of the supervisor and "supervisee," directs supervisors on giving feedback to caseworkers and it provides guidance on how to handle a relationship breakdown between supervisor and caseworker.

It says both supervisor and staff "will maintain notes regarding key decisions and themes that are discussed in supervision." Yet, at another point in the seven-page document, the policy states "it is recommended" supervisors record "case material discussed" with caseworkers as well as "supervision activity."

On what happens to the supervisor's notes, the direction is also muddy. "They should not/cannot be destroyed," the document says.

Facing questions this week about supervisors' notes going missing, Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard called it "extremely distressing." Howard was unavailable.

Cabinet spokesman Jean-Marc Prevost said a separate Winnipeg CFS policy, predating the document obtained by the Free Press, requires all case-related documentation, including supervisors notes, to be kept in the same case file. It's also policy, he said, to ensure case files are reviewed "bi-annually" to ensure they are properly sorted.

Family case files -- the type of file used for the Phoenix Sinclair case -- are required to be kept active or semi-active for 30 years, Prevost said. After 30 years, case files are archived.

The Winnipeg CFS supervision policy, however, states that "supervisor notes should be placed in a sealed envelope and filed in his or her office."

The policy goes on to say: "When a supervisor leaves the (child protection) branch his or her notes should be summarized into a performance appraisal and then archived."

That raises questions about what happens to the supervisor's original notes.

Leanne Rowat, the Progressive Conservatives family services critic, said while the supervisors policy is "kind of convoluted," the government -- aware for years that an inquiry would be held -- should have done everything it could to keep key files from disappearing.

"If (supervisor) notes have disappeared or weren't saved, how can you in good faith indicate that you're giving a fair and transparent evaluation of staff?" she said.

Miriam Browne of the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers said any member who fails to meet an agency's guidelines on the keeping and maintenance of records can face disciplinary action. However, Manitoba social workers are not required to be members of the institute. It does not appear, according to the organization's website, any of the social worker supervisors who have testified at the inquiry so far belong to the organization.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Excerpts from Winnipeg CFS's supervision policy:

"At a minimum, scheduled (staff) supervision should occur on a monthly basis."

"Both supervisor and staff will maintain notes regarding key decisions and themes that are discussed in supervision. The supervisor will maintain supervision records that will document case discussions and discussions regarding the employee's professional development, and personnel issues."

SDLqThey should not/cannot be destroyedSDRq -- in reference to caseworker supervisors' notes

"When a supervisor leaves the (Child Protection) Branch her or his notes should be summarized into a performance appraisal and then archived as per our Branch's archiving process."

"When a supervisor has direct contact or provides an intervention on a case (i.e., a phone call with a client), this material should be recorded as per our Branch recording policy and provided to the assigned social worker for inclusion in the client file."

Source: Supervision Policy, Winnipeg Child and Family Services, March 1, 2004

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 A3

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