A former Winnipeg child and family services supervisor concedes that not enough was done in the case of Phoenix Sinclair, a young girl who was killed after spending much of her life in and out of Manitoba's child welfare system.
Read the latest posts from the CBC's Katie Nicholson, who covered the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week:
The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry heard on Friday from Heather Edinborough, who oversaw Phoenix's file as the little girl was being returned to the care of her biological father, Steve Sinclair, in 2003.
The inquiry has heard that Phoenix was apprehended from Sinclair in June 2003 but was returned to him that October.
A previous social worker's report said officials needed to stay involved with Sinclair and Samantha Kematch, Phoenix's biological mother.
The report noted that Phoenix faced a high risk of "maltreatment" due to the parents' troubled backgrounds.
Edinborough said that she did not ignore that warning, but she wanted to "start fresh" with a different social worker, Stan Williams.
Williams, who was aboriginal, was known for using traditional culture to help CFS clients, the inquiry was told. He died in 2009.
Missed crucial information
Edinborough conceded that she and Williams had missed a crucial piece of information in Phoenix's file.
"I think that we, Stan and I, underestimated or minimized the significance and the seriousness of Steve's substance-abuse problems," she told the inquiry.
The inquiry was told that the social worker worked with Sinclair, assessing the father's ability to take care of Phoenix.
But Edinborough testified that there was misplaced optimism about Sinclair's ability to care for Phoenix, as they had "placed too much emphasis on people's strengths and minimized their deficits."
"I may not have shared the same opinion as the intake summary, nor did Stan, on every opinion that's expressed in here," she said.
"But I think the substance abuse issue is one that we — Stan and I — should have paid more attention to."
Moved in and out of care
Despite concerns the case worker noted about Sinclair's ability to parent, Phoenix was returned to Sinclair's care in October 2003.
But that did not last long — in January 2004, Phoenix was sent back to a foster home, the inquiry was told.
Edinborough told the inquiry, "It was certainly disappointing that this fell apart so soon."
Phoenix continued to spend her life in and out of the child welfare system before she died in 2005 — shortly after she was returned to Kematch, who by then was living with Karl McKay.
Kematch and McKay were convicted in 2008 of first-degree murder in connection with Phoenix's death. The girl had been neglected, confined and repeatedly abused.
The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry is looking at how Manitoba child-welfare officials handled the five-year-old girl's case.
Inquiry hearings resume next week.