Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Worker's boss can't explain gap in contact

Takes stand in Phoenix inquiry

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The supervisor of the social worker who didn't check on baby Phoenix Sinclair for months after she was returned to her troubled parents for the first time couldn't say why her subordinate didn't make contact with the family for months.

Angie Balan told the inquiry into the girl's death Wednesday she did not know that social worker, Delores Chief-Abigosis, was attending university classes full time while working for Winnipeg Child and Family Services.

"Had I known that I would've wanted to consider it," Balan said during her testimony on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Chief-Abigosis told the inquiry she was "very busy" juggling a full-time job, attending university full time and commuting from Brokenhead First Nation, 82 kilometres north of Winnipeg, and that her employer was aware. The social worker was questioned about gaps in the file on Phoenix Sinclair's family from November 2000, when Chief-Abigosis started at the agency and inherited the file, and February 2001.

Phoenix was apprehended from her parents, Samantha Kematch and Steven Sinclair, after she was born in April 2000. They were unprepared for the baby and Kematch had received no prenatal care and had a previous baby taken into care. To get Phoenix back, they signed a service agreement with CFS that set out conditions that had to be met -- including meeting regularly with a social worker. Chief-Abigosis didn't visit the family until February 9, 2001.

Commission counsel Derek Olson asked Balan if that gap in contact was an acceptable practice. Balan said it was not.

"Were you ultimately responsible for that gap?" Olson asked. Balan said as a supervisor responsible for seven workers carrying 20 to 30 cases each, it was her job to make sure they knew what their responsibilities were and to make sure they were able to do their work. "Who is responsible to make sure clients are seen and assessed?" Olson asked her.

"That would have been my responsibility."

Chief-Abigosis told the inquiry Tuesday she didn't know Phoenix's parents had a second child April 29, 2001, until the hospital notified CFS of the birth. That event is the only independent recollection Balan said she has of the case.

She said she recalled advising Chief-Abigosis to give the family some time to get home and settled with the new baby before visiting them. "A reasonable time would have been two to three days," she said. The social worker's notes said she went there May 9 but no one was home. She didn't see them until July 6, after Kematch and Sinclair had split up and Phoenix was in the care of her dad, Sinclair. Baby Echo died July 15, 2001, of an acute respiratory infection.

Chief-Abigosis couldn't recall why there were no notes of her doing work on the file.

Balan testified on Wednesday she expected the social worker would contact the family and do the casework, and had biweekly meetings with every worker to see how their cases were proceeding.

"The necessary contacts were not maintained," said Balan. She could not say why, because her supervisory notes have not been located. She said she left them in binders in the office of the supervisor on maternity leave she was filling in for, Lorna Hanson, the next witness to testify.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2012 A6


Updated on Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 9:22 AM CST: replaces photo, adds Cover it Live

10:19 AM: changes headline

10:25 AM: Corrects headline; Lorna Hanson giving testimony today, not Angie Balan

1:33 PM: Removes Cover it Live, restores print headline

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