No reason to assume Phoenix at risk: worker
Inquiry hears testimony from worker who closed child's file shortly before her death
The child-welfare worker who closed a Manitoba girl’s file just months before she was murdered, testified she didn’t have any information suggesting the girl was at risk.
Diva Faria faced tough questions Thursday at the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry, which is examining the circumstances around the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.
Sinclair was killed in 2005 on Fisher River First Nation and her body buried in a shallow grave. Her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her mother’s boyfriend, Karl McKay, were convicted of first-degree murder in her death.
Sinclair was in and out of the child welfare system in Manitoba throughout her short life.
Faria testified Thursday that she closed the girl’s file three times in the months leading up to her death, despite a tip that Sinclair was being abused.
The first was in 2004 when Kematch had another child, and the file was referred to a Winnipeg child and family services agency. The agency closed Sinclair’s file despite not being able to get in touch with Kematch.
Faria testified they had no reason to assume Sinclair was at risk.
"We knew that public health attended to the home, understood their obligation to report to us and clearly indicated they had nothing to report," said Faria. "Based on that we had no information that there was any risk to these children and made the decision to conclude the case at CRU."
In March 2005, CFS received a tip Phoenix was being abused by Kematch and locked in a room. Two workers were sent to look into the allegations but left without seeing the little girl.
The pair told Kematch it was not safe to lock the little girl in a room and then recommended the file be closed. Faria signed off on that file as well.
Three months later, Phoenix was killed by Kematch and McKay.
Faria testified the tip about abuse fell into a "gray area." She said the agency was provided with no information about the abuse and all the agency knew was that there were young children in the home and a history of involvement with CFS.
"A black and white case would be a child with an injury, a child disclosing sexual abuse, a child born in the hospital in withdrawal. Those would be domestic violence. Those would be accepted, no questions," said Faria.
Faria testified that in Sinclair’s case there were no specific details of the abuse, and it was unlikely it would meet the criteria for investigation by the agency’s abuse unit.
Faria told the inquiry she was unclear on what standards applied while she worked for CFS between 1999 and 2005.
"The program standards were in a transition period, so often that was part of the issue," said Faria. "It was very confusing to know what standards were in effect when."
She added, the job took an emotional toll on workers and was traumatic at times.
"It was not uncommon for me, you know, to bathe children – like infants – because they were filthy," said Faria. "You know, neglected – seeing children with burns or bruises and fractures. That is very, you know, that is very psychologically and emotionally challenging."
Faria is expected to return to the stand when the inquiry resumes on Monday, Jan. 21.