CFS standards not about common sense, inquiry told

A child and family services manager testified before a provincial inquiry Thursday that CFS standards didn't have anything to do with common sense.

Winnipeg CFS manager Dan Berg testifies in Phoenix Sinclair case

Phoenix Sinclair was killed at age five on the Fisher River First Nation in 2005. (Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry)

A former child and family services manager has told an inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair that CFS standards did not have anything to do with common sense.

Testimony from former Winnipeg CFS manager Dan Berg continued for the second day at the inquiry Thursday.

The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry is examining the circumstances around the death of the five-year-old girl, who was killed in 2005 on the Fisher River First Nation.

Her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her mother’s boyfriend, Karl McKay, were convicted of first-degree murder in her death.

Sinclair spent much of her short life in the care of several CFS agencies before she was beaten to death. Her death went undetected by workers for nine months.

Inquiry blog

Read the latest blog entries from the CBC's Katie Nicholson, who is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry:

The inquiry heard that Berg was responsible for overseeing the work of supervisors handling Sinclair’s file.

Lawyer Jeff Gindin, representing Phoenix's godmother, Kim Edwards, and Phoenix's biological father, Steve, questioned Berg on Thursday about how it was possible for workers to close Sinclair’s file just months before her death.

Gindin asked Berg if he thought there was a lack of common sense used in social workers’ decisions.

"Well, sir, standards don't have anything to do with common sense," Berg replied.

"There are guiding principles for us to follow."

Those guiding principles led workers to close Phoenix's file despite a tip about abuse and a report from McKay's probation officer that said the officer was afraid to be alone with him.

Berg testified that workers were not aware of the probation officer's report.

Gindin questioned Berg on why workers didn’t dig deeper into McKay’s background. McKay would later go on to be convicted in Phoenix's murder.

"I personally don’t think she would have time to do that," said Berg. "She just would not have time with the volume of cases that she’d be dealing with."

Unacceptable to shred notes

The inquiry also heard on Thursday from a former CFS chief executive officer who said it was unacceptable for supervisors to shred their notes, despite previous testimony from workers who said they did just that.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think somebody was shredding their notes," Linda Trigg testified.

Commission counsel Sherri Walsh questioned Trigg about previous testimony from workers that indicated they shredded their notes when they left the agency or when their files were closed.

Trigg said she was never alerted to that practice.

Further testimony revealed the agency was plagued with undertrained staff and problems associated with the agency’s restructuring.

CFS was restructured before she arrived, resulting in senior staff no longer working directly with families or children, the inquiry was told.

As well, there was a very high turnover. At least one team turned over 100 per cent of its staff in one year.

"You had in the program structure the most junior people filling some of the roles requiring sophisticated judgment," Trigg said.

The problem was exacerbated by frontline workers entering the agency directly from bachelor of social work programs. Many of the junior workers lacked the specific training they needed to deal with troubled families, according to Trigg.

"I don’t think that anybody coming right out of school is 100 per cent skilled in doing all that," she said. "It takes experience — supervision."

The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry has adjourned for the week. It will continue hearing testimony on Monday.