Witnesses

SOR #4 (Hospital social worker)

SOR #4 (Hospital social worker)

  • Social worker at Health Sciences Centre
  • Came into contact with Samantha Kematch in 2004-2005 when she had 4th child
Miriam Browne

Miriam Browne

  • Executive director, Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers

High risk to re-offend

Wednesday, December 19

Karl McKay was a violent man: a threat to women and children. He was so scary that in February 1999, a probation officer felt she was in danger.

The probation officer was no shrinking violet -- she had years of experience under her belt.

But when McKay came to her office, he was so hostile and difficult she decided to warn Child and Family Services.

That probation officer, Miriam Browne, also happens to be the head of the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers.

Today, she told the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry that after that meeting with McKay, she marched into her supervisor's office. They decided from that day on that it was no longer safe for probation officers to meet with McKay alone.

Re-assigning McKay to the high risk unit ensured that in future dealings, two probation officers would be deployed for meetings with the troubled man.

Browne and her boss also drafted a letter to the social worker handling McKay's family file.

McKay had a long, spotty record of domestic abuse and arrests for assault. At the time, he was living with a woman and their two daughters.

CFS records indicate McKay frequently beat his partner and she often tried to cover for him, lying to doctors.

In 1999, McKay was supposed to complete a program for domestic abuse. But he missed a crucial session.

When he turned up in Browne's office, he was rude and belligerent.

In her letter to CFS, Browne explained that McKay wasn't keeping his appointments with the probation office.

She reported that he missed key domestic abuse program classes, and his behaviour was offensive.

Most importantly, she wrote: "Mr. McKay has been assessed as high risk to re-offend in a violent fashion."

Browne cautioned the social worker that McKay's partner and their children would be at risk if he returned to their home.

Browne confirmed it was an unusual move for probation officers to send such notes to CFS.

What did the agency do with this information? Did this unusual missive from a probation officer -- indicating an active threat to the safety of a woman and her children -- get anyone's attention?

If it did, it wasn't for long.

Despite the best efforts of Browne and her colleagues, the alarm they raised appears to have been lost in the day-to-day din of the child welfare system.

Five years later, when Karl McKay's name started to appear on CFS records alongside Samantha Kematch and Phoenix Sinclair, no one batted an eye.

A year after that, McKay's penchant for violence got the best of him and he killed Phoenix Sinclair.

The inquiry has wrapped until the new year. In the meantime, we are left to ponder all the deep flaws it has thus far revealed in the system that failed Phoenix Sinclair.

We have heard of high workloads involving complex cases, of workers not receiving adequate training, or meeting professional competency standards.

We have been told of the perils of devolution and the chaos and uncertainty the reorganization of the child welfare system caused.

We learned of wide gaps in communication within the agency, and months of inaction and lack of contact with a high-risk family.

We have been told of warnings that might have been lost, forgotten, misfiled or ignored.

And there has been testimony about incomplete documentation and notes: the missing, the shredded, and the willfully destroyed.

The past few weeks have been both shocking and tedious; a bit like watching a car crash in very, very slow motion. And, as the Inquiry grinds to a halt today,  there is the gloomy knowledge that the worst part of this story is yet to come.

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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