Witnesses

Darlene MacDonald

Darlene MacDonald

  • Former program manager, Winnipeg Child and Family Services
  • Currently serves as Manitoba's Children's Advocate

Expectations

Tuesday, February 5

Darlene MacDonald normally wears the hat of the Manitoba's Children's Advocate.  Today she was on the stand at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry as a former program manager with Winnipeg Child and Family Services.

MacDonald held that position for most of the years Phoenix Sinclair was bounced around the system.

Today, she told commission lawyer Derek Olson she was surprised the child's file had been opened and closed seven times without ever being referred for ongoing care. Especially, given how lengthy the file was.

MacDonald: Looking at the case, I would have reviewed the history.... Looked like they didn't have many supports in place ... and I would have expected it to be open long-term in Family Services.

Olson: You wouldn't have expected there to be a lot of openings and closings in a case like this?

MacDonald: That's right.

Had her file been kept open and had she had been referred for long-term supervision, things might have been different for Phoenix.

For one, MacDonald explained, Phoenix would have been assigned a steady single caseworker who would have gotten to know her parents and other caregivers. A steady relationship might have made all the difference.

MacDonald didn't know why the file wasn't referred to Family Services, but she had a theory. MacDonald fingered the start of the devolution process and the organizational upheaval it caused.

"Because of all the massive changes that were going on," MacDonald said, "there was an awful lot of turnover in staff and that may reflect in the fact that there were so many workers involved in this case."

"Constant staff turnover?" Olson asked.

"Constant staff turnover." MacDonald echoed.

MacDonald also touched briefly upon the reports on Phoenix's death that crossed her desk. Among them was a chief medical examiner's report she received in October 2006.

The cover letter asked MacDonald not to "make copies of the report or share its contents without the written permission of the executive director of the Child Protection Branch."

MacDonald testified that it was "a standard letter that comes out with any death of a child or review." But she also noted that it was unusual to be asked to keep such a tight lid on reports.

Olson: Was that typical for reports like this that you're instructed not to share them with anyone?

MacDonald: No, not normally.

Olson: Was that surprising to you at all?

McDonald: I had assumed because the inquiry had been called that that was why they did not want to report shared.

Whatever the reason, MacDonald followed the edict.

Lawyer Jeff Gindin pushed her on the wisdom of keeping the report under wraps. He pointed out that many of the social workers critiqued in the file might have benefited from feedback.

Instead, as we have heard through the inquiry, many didn't learn their work had come under fire for years. Some only in the harsh light of a public inquiry.

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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