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Scathing reports kept from staff

Social workers in dark until inquiry called

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SOCIAL workers who mishandled the Phoenix Sinclair case never saw three separate reports critical of their work until an inquiry into her 2005 death was ordered in 2011.

Their former boss, who now oversees the General Authority, said it wasn't up to him to share the findings with the workers and, if it was, he may not have.

"I'm not sure I would support entire reports being shared with all staff who worked on a case," Jay Rodgers said. The reports weren't written to judge the competence of individual workers, he said.

The reports were written by the chief medical examiner, the Office of the Children's Advocate and an internal review was written for CFS after the five-year-old's body was discovered buried at the Fisher River First Nation dump in 2006. Rodgers said he believed senior managers received copies of the often-scathing reports. They could have used the findings and recommendations as a learning opportunity and to have discussions with staff, he said.

But they didn't. The workers involved didn't see the reports until after the province ordered a public inquiry into Phoenix's death.

"None were shown the findings or made aware of their involvement prior to participating in this inquiry," commission counsel Sherri Walsh told Rodgers. Several testified earlier it might have helped them do a better job if they'd seen the reports' findings.

"By not discussing with staff their involvement with the family... how did the agency expect staff would improve or make changes to their performance?" she asked.

Rodgers deferred to Darlene MacDonald, who took over from him as the CEO of Winnipeg Child and Family Services in 2006 and would've decided what to do with the reports on Phoenix.

MacDonald, who now runs the Office of the Children's Advocate, testifies today. Before the inquiry began in September, she was critical of its price tag and suggested the money could be better spent on providing services.

Rodgers told the inquiry Monday it's not too late to learn from the aging reports on the Phoenix case.

"On a going-forward basis, I would like to explore this with my agency directors. We should take full advantage of those learning opportunities."

Rogers became head of the General Authority in 2007 after devolution and a reorganization of the child-welfare system.

He stickhandled some of the upheaval in the child-welfare system while Phoenix was in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000 and after she died in 2005. Phoenix was on and off CFS's radar screen her whole life until she was killed in 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl "Wes" McKay. Kematch and McKay were convicted of murder in 2008.

Rodgers testified Monday the system has improved since then. "I believe the service system we have today has seen enormous enhancements," he said. The next phase of the inquiry is expected to look at the changes that have occurred in greater detail.

Still, the front lines of child protection will never be an easy place to work, he said. "No matter what, child welfare is very difficult work."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 A3


Updated on Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 9:42 AM CST: replaces photo

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