Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Report altered, worker claims

Phoenix file missing info, inquiry told

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Documents were altered and information is missing from the file on Phoenix Sinclair, says a former crisis response unit worker with Child and Family Services.

Testifying Monday at the inquiry into the death of the little girl in care, Debbie DeGale said her supervisor changed her assessment of Phoenix's safety and someone removed important information she swears she wrote.

"Other information was in there," DeGale said.

She told the inquiry she recalls the child's mother, Samantha Kematch, swearing at her on the phone then hanging up. Kematch had gone to Legal Aid and was trying to get sole custody of Phoenix in May 2004 -- about a year before Kematch murdered her little girl.

"There were other things I recall doing that I don't see in that report," DeGale said.

She was on duty in May 2004 when the welfare worker for Phoenix's dad, Steve Sinclair, called, concerned about Phoenix's safety and whereabouts. The worker, who cannot be named, was told Kematch had custody of Phoenix since November 2003 and wanted welfare payments for the little girl. The welfare worker noted the last time Phoenix's case was open, she was supposed to be in her dad's care, but he had placed her with friends Kim Edwards and Rohan Stephenson.

The welfare worker recalled the CFS worker saying Phoenix would be in danger if she was returned to either parent, DeGale noted in the file.

On the same day, DeGale took a call from a woman claiming to be one of Phoenix's aunts. The woman told DeGale the little girl was being mistreated.

"She felt she was neglected and her parents had a history of being mean to her," said DeGale.

DeGale did a safety assessment of Phoenix's situation and assigned a 24-hour response time before the file was passed along to CFS intake.

It wasn't until lawyers for the commission of inquiry interviewed DeGale that she learned her safety assessment had been "altered" and information was missing, she told commission counsel Sherri Walsh.

"Do you have any recollection of writing that information down into the report?" Walsh asked DeGale.

"I recorded everything," she answered. DeGale said she would have noted the warning call from the "aunt," and she remembered making other inquiries about the child that weren't in the CFS file. She couldn't say who would have removed such information or why.

The "altered" document was her safety assessment of Phoenix.

The 24-hour response time she assigned to the case was changed by DeGale's supervisor, the inquiry learned.

DeGale's name, but no signature, appears on the report indicating a less-urgent 48-hour response time was required.

"There's no way I would've assigned that kind of response time," DeGale said.

The lawyer representing several child welfare authorities, including CFS, asked DeGale if the supervisor had the right to overrule her safety assessment.

"Isn't the supervisor ultimately responsible for determining the response time?" Kris Saxberg asked.

"Not if someone changes my work and makes it look like I did it," said DeGale.

Her supervisor should have documented making the change and explained the rationale for it, she added.

That "work" that DeGale denied doing was criticized in reviews conducted by the children's advocate and the chief medical examiner's office after Phoenix's 2005 murder was discovered.

DeGale, who was never interviewed by either report writers, was criticized by both for assigning a 48-hour response time when the situation demanded more urgent action.

"It appears to anybody who's reviewed this paperwork that it appeared to be my assessment and my decision when it wasn't," DeGale told the inquiry.

DeGale said she didn't find that out until the commission of inquiry was called and she was interviewed by its counsel.

The woman, who still works for CFS, is not being represented by the union lawyer representing other CFS social workers at the inquiry. She has her own lawyer there.

Her testimony continues today.

 

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2012 A4

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