Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Union objections to inquiry now clear

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After many months -- too many months -- of delay caused by legal challenges to its authority, the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry commission began hearings of evidence in earnest this week. Already, the public is getting some understanding that things went quickly off the rails after Phoenix was returned to her parents in September 2000.

An internal report done by the child welfare agency involved showed that soon after the agency returned four-month-old Phoenix to her parents, CFS all but disappeared from their lives -- "from October 2000 to the last contact with this family, actual service was almost non-existent." That despite the fact regular agency contact was required.

At Phoenix's birth, in April 2000, Samantha Kematch and Steve Sinclair "indicated that they were not prepared to care for this baby either financially or emotionally." In September, Phoenix was returned to her parents, who, CFS said, met all the demands placed on them, including attending an eight-week parenting course. But it is clear, things were going very wrong in her home. The agency in 2003 apprehended Phoenix again and considered her at "high risk."

The inquiry learned record-keeping was a problem in the case. Indeed, the agency supervisor destroyed his notes when he left the job in 2010, four years after the province announced an inquiry, and just a year before the commission began its work. Andy Orobko said he didn't think his notes, which commented on the work and competency of staff, would be relevant.

The union representing social workers fought mightily to keep the inquiry from happening. It argued that no good would come of yet another review into how child welfare lost track of the little girl, returned one last time to Kematch, who, with her boyfriend Karl McKay, murdered the five-year-old in 2005.

On Thursday, the single page presented from the agency's own internal review of its role in the case indicated it has much to explain. The review concluded the agency did not meet the standards of care expected of it.

Case workers were overloaded, the inquiry has been told. Much of Phoenix's short life -- and what CFS did and didn't do -- remains to be examined in the next 90 days. But after two short days of testimony, Manitobans are getting some idea why the union hoped to avoid the public examination.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A16

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