Witnesses

Heather Edinborough

Heather Edinborough

  • Former CFS Winnipeg social worker
  • Supervised social worker Stan Williams

'Misplaced optimism'

Friday, November 30

After a week of guarded testimony, hearing from Heather Edinborough was a breath of fresh air.

The former Winnipeg Child and Family Services supervisor took the stand today. The Phoenix Sinclair file landed on her desk after the girl was apprehended from her father, Steve Sinclair, in June 2003, following a wild drinking party.

Knowing Steve Sinclair didn't trust CFS, Edinborough decided to try something different.  She had heard good things about an aboriginal social worker named Stan Williams.

Williams used aboriginal cultural traditions with clients throughout Winnipeg's North End.

Edinborough figured Sinclair would be more trusting of a man who also shared his heritage.

From the start, Williams dug into the new family file. Edinborough recalled how passionately Williams advocated for his new client.

"He would lean in," she remembered, "and lock eyes with me."

Under Williams and Edinborough's watch, the Sinclair file was again closed in October 2003; father and daughter were reunited.

That, she testified, was a mistake.

Edinborough is retired now, and perhaps that's why she was able to be so forthright.

Twice this morning, she paused to say she and Williams got it wrong: Steve Sinclair's alcohol addiction was too serious in the fall of 2003 to merit returning Phoenix to his care.

Her candid confession caused more than a few raised eyebrows among those in the room -- many were surprised someone was essentially saying, "This piece of the puzzle went missing on my watch."

Williams died in 2009.

Today, Edinborough remembered Williams's zeal for the families he worked with and for the common thread of hope they shared. She was also in the unenviable position of having to critique a dead man's work.

While she praised Williams's talent for gaining the trust of clients, she also had to acknowledge that he was a terrible note-taker.

Edinborough's testimony was marked by what appeared to be moments of catharsis.

She spoke wistfully of how helpful it would have been if she could have met with others who handled the little girl's file after learning of her death.

There were tears as she alluded to the devastation workers feel when a child in care dies.

Edinborough also wept when explaining the lot of social workers. We have heard a lot of child welfare workers testify that their ultimate goal is to put families back together.

Without hope, Edinborough said you simply can't do the job.

But even Edinborough had to admit that "misplaced optimism" may have been a factor in Phoenix's death.

Inside the inquiry

With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.

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