Barbara Klos

Barbara Klos

  • Former Winnipeg CFS supervisor
  • Worked in CFS's crisis response unit
Heather Edinborough

Heather Edinborough

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

What constitutes an emergency?

Monday, December 3

This blog post is written by the CBC's Sean Kavanagh, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week:

I covered much of the legal wrangling leading up to the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, but this was my first full day sitting and listening to the testimony.

Since the inquiry began, much has been made of notes going missing and some people's memories being poor.

The testimony of Child and Family Services (CFS) workers I have seen so far hasn't had those kind of headlines.

Instead, it's like the steady drip of a leaky faucet, and each drop seems to show just how big the crack was that Phoenix fell through.

Phoenix, we learned, was returned to her biological father, Steve Sinclair, despite misgivings from the CFS supervisor on the file.

Heather Edinborough told the inquiry that a psychiatric assessment was never done on Sinclair. She felt it wasn't his substance abuse that was an issue, but his inability to "attach" to his daughter Phoenix.

But neither the drinking nor parenting issues was compelling enough to stop CFS from returning Phoenix to the custody of her dad.

That didn't last very long.

Steve Sinclair had custody of Phoenix since October 2003, but for just a couple of months or so.

Then a call to CFS went to its crisis unit in early January 2004. It was reported that Sinclair wasn't looking after Phoenix.

CFS staff, however, had trouble tracking the little girl down.

That sounds alarming but remember, the case had been closed and the father had regained custody of Phoenix.

The social worker at the crisis unit told the inquiry, "It did not seem to be an emergency."

It would take weeks before Phoenix was found at the home of her godparent, Kim [Edwards] Stephenson, and Rohan Stephenson.

A media colleague of mine urged me to think about the word "emergency" for a minute.

Phoenix Sinclair was no longer an active case for CFS. But there was so much misery in her file -- her parents' substance abuse, and a psychiatric assessment of Phoenix's mother, Samantha Kematch, indicating she was unfit to parent.

There were the CFS apprehensions, and the little girl's trip to the hospital with something lodged in her nose -- for three months -- that had become infected ... and so much more.

Hindsight is always a luxury (it's even harder when most of the notes go missing). But you have to wonder, and I was asked outside the doors of the inquiry this afternoon, what constitutes an emergency?

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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