Inquiry hears of Manitoba CFS agency in chaos

The Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry heard testimony Tuesday from a child and family services manager who said the agency didn't have the funds it needed to manage children's cases.

Another CFS manager testifying before the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry reveals problems

Another CFS manager testified before the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry that the agency was underfunded and staff were overworked, putting children in danger. CBC's Katie Nicholson reports. 1:34

The Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry heard testimony Tuesday from a child and family services manager who said children were put at risk because staff were overworked and the agency was underfunded.

The testimony came from former program manager Patrick Harrison and is the latest in a chorus of voices saying Manitoba CFS agencies lacked funds and staff with appropriate training.

The inquiry is examining the circumstances around the death of five-year-old Phoenix. She was killed in 2005 on Fisher River First Nation. Her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her mother’s boyfriend, Karl McKay, were convicted of first-degree murder in her death.

Phoenix spent much of her short life in the care of several child and family services agencies, before she was beaten to death. Her death went undetected by workers for nine months.

Harrison testified Tuesday a provincial restructuring of agencies meant workloads were extremely high.

While Harrison worked for the agency, he said the province was making a move to transfer cases to new First Nations agencies that were more culturally appropriate.

That meant workers had to review all case history files before transferring them.

"This was a systemic problem where the workload for all staff was too high," said Harrison.

The reviews were heaped on workers and no extra funding was made available to hire additional workers.

Harrison said he knew the workload was high, but the budget prohibited them from lightening loads by adding new staff.

When asked if children were put at risk by high workloads, Harrison said staff did the best they could, but weren’t perfect.

"[High workloads] increased the challenge of managing the risk," said Harrison.

He added, "Sometimes the problems that we have in this community overwhelm our ability to respond."

That ability to respond came down to a budget that was too small, according to Harrison.

The inquiry is scheduled to resume hearing testimony next week.