Child welfare workers in Winnipeg did not know where Phoenix Sinclair was for two weeks in early 2004, an inquiry into the five-year-old girl's death heard today.
The Phoenix Sinclair inquiry heard testimony on Monday from Barbara Klos, a former Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) supervisor.
Klos testified that Phoenix was supposed to be living with her biological father, Steve Sinclair, at the time.
But a call that came into the CFS agency's after-hours emergency line in January 2004 reported that Phoenix was with her biological mother, Samantha Kematch, and that Kematch was smoking "rock" — a popular term for crack cocaine — in front of her.
Klos told inquiry counsel Derek Olson that she was instructed to find out where Phoenix was.
The CBC's Sean Kavanagh is covering the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry this week. Read his latest blog post here:
- Dec. 3: What constitutes an emergency?
"We were being asked to find out, do we know for sure where this child should be? Should she be with Mom? Should she be with Dad?" Klos testified.
Sinclair had regained custody of the girl, as she had been returned to his care from her godparents in November 2003, the inquiry was told.
But Klos testified that staff couldn't locate Phoenix, and the phone numbers for the child's godparent, Kim (Edwards) Stephenson, had been disconnected.
About 14 days passed in which CFS staff did not know where Phoenix was. She was eventually found at the godparent's home, the inquiry was told.
Not an emergency
Klos said her supervisor at the CFS agency did not think it was an emergency that Phoenix couldn't be located, or that Kematch was allegedly smoking crack cocaine in the little girl's presence.
Klos said if she thought the matter was an emergency, she would have sent someone to the address they had on file, since the listed phone numbers did not work.
Instead, she said she referred the file to the CFS agency's intake unit, where she thought some kind of follow-up would have happened.
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 Phoenix's case. Hearings continue on Tuesday.
Workloads an issue, supervisor says
Another Winnipeg CFS supervisor, Heather Edinborough, testified earlier on Monday that social workers do good work despite having to juggle heavy caseloads.
"If they had lower caseloads, they would absolutely get to know their clients better. They would know just how serious or not serious the named problems are," Edinborough said.
"So yes, they could do more with clients if they had lower workloads."
As she began testifying on Friday, Edinborough said she felt regret that she and social worker Stan Williams did not pay enough attention to concerns about Steve Sinclair's alcohol abuse.
The inquiry heard that Williams, an aboriginal social worker, was handed Phoenix's file in the hopes of helping Sinclair overcome his resistance to the CFS system.
But Williams took very few notes of his dealing with Phoenix's family. Williams died in 2009.
Edinborough added on Monday that she could have done a better job assessing Sinclair's parenting abilities.