Reliving unnecessary horror, or why McKay’s sons should not have been called

(The bland-looking home where Phoenix Sinclair was tortured and murdered)
(The bland-looking Fisher River home where Phoenix Sinclair was tortured and murdered)

I hear you when you say your family’s broken … what this has done to you. — Commissioner Ted Hughes

There was absolutely no need for the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry staff to put Karl McKay’s sons on the witness stand today.

And even having his ex-wife (a McKay domestic-abuse survivor) testifying today was questionable, save for the fact she says she notified Chid and Family Services of potential abuse to Phoenix long before the McKay-Kematch house of cards coming down on top of them in March 2006.

For the inquiry’s sake, she needed to be questioned on this point. That’s fair game.

But the fact there were few cross-examination questions for the McKay “boys” from non-inquiry lawyers [In fact not a single query for child the elder] is telling.

This is just my respectful opinion: There was virtually nothing McKay’s sons had to offer this inquiry which couldn’t have been tendered through affidavit evidence, sparing them the stress of reliving in public the horror they’ve experienced and already testified to in court in 2008.

This became clear to me pretty quickly. These are two now-young adult men who’ve been rocked to the core by what they’ve been forced to live through, through no fault of their own.

And the one likely the most directly affected, McKay son the younger — the eyewitness to a lot of the horror Phoenix went through in a supposedly “tight-knit” Fisher River community which apparently failed to notice she was even around — was clearly terrified by the prospect of being pilloried in the public eye for not speaking up sooner about what he saw than he did.

“Can I make a statement,” the 20-year-old asked at the conclusion of his hour-long direct examination by commission counsel.

Yes, said Commissioner Hughes. The young man had a message for the media in the room — of which there was more than has been usual.

Can I ask you reporters – don’t try to make me sound like the baddest guy on earth?

I read the paper, you guys make it sound bad – you guys make it sound horrible. I couldn’t help it, man.

That’s like the only thing I ask — just don’t make it sound like I’m really bad and terrible, Because I already feel bad. Now that I’m older I feel, like, so terrible and it’s bad enough that you guys are bringing this all back to me and I got all these little memories flashing in my head.

I just want to forget all that.

And without a doubt, we should be doing everything we can to help these young men get past this. Commissioner Hughes even graciously pledged to McKay’s ex to help as much as he could.

What child the younger witnessed basically ruined his life, he said.

“Where do I start?,” he asked when lead commission lawyer Sherri Walsh queried how the Phoenix incident has affected him:

“I’m a pretty fucked up person now. … used to be a good kid … all of it’s gone like that (he snaps his fingers a few times).” He said he turned to drugs, booze and crime to “block out what I seen.” “(I’m) trying to get my life back together,” he told Hughes. “(It) made me a terrible person,” he said.

His brother’s no different: “I think it made me more like my dad, because I get — when I rage, I can do some damage,” he said.

They were just kids when Phoenix died. Not paid social-work professionals or community vanguards.

Mere children who came from not very much and now saddled forever with the burden of what their odious father did.

The younger son won’t even call him his father, saying he prefers “Wesley” or “Karl.”

If there was one thing their testimony did accomplish, it was to further cement for commissioner Hughes the culture of fear they, and others in their positions, lived in.

  • Fear of Karl McKay, their violent and vengeful father (their dad) — and what he might do if they ratted on him.
  • Fear of the child-welfare system [both boys were apparently scared when Intertribal CFS workers turned up to ‘rescue’ them in July 2005]
  • Fear of the media and public scorn — of being cast as villains in this horrific tale.

It’s been many torturous weeks since Rohan Stephenson testified at this now-$10-million inquiry.

But it was his words that really gave the most insight into what the major problem was when it comes to considering Phoenix’s case.

“So I was a liar, and (CFS) were incompetent and 15,000 other circumstances all came together and now Phoenix is dead,” he said Dec. 6.

The more I reflect on this, the more simple dissecting Phoenix’s pathetic voyage through ‘the system’ becomes. It really boils down to this:

CFS can’t do its job if people won’t come forward with information, for whatever reasons — including their fear of ‘the system.’

At the same time, when CFS was given information about Phoenix, it failed to rate much attention or urgency until it was too late.

Putting McKay’s sons on the stand today, in my humble opinion, takes us really no further in solving this dichotomy.

We knew all along what they had to say, and by now, we probably instinctively know what it is we’re really confronting here.

We’re no further along today as a result of McKay’s sons’ testimony.

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Phoenix Inquiry: The odd logic of ‘concerns’ and oversight

(Phoenix Sinclair)
(Phoenix Sinclair)

Trying to figure out how Phoenix Sinclair managed to slip through the cracks of Manitoba’s child-welfare system and wind up murdered by a mother who was a walking red flag for trouble?

It’s actually very simple, really.

But, like most simple things, it’s incredibly complex and nuanced.

As we’ve seen in the last few months, Child and Family Services is an incredibly complex beast.

How it does things is complex. The problems it contends with are more complex than CFS is.

I worked with a woman once in another field before becoming a reporter. She was very sweet and well-meaning.

But under stress, she was an absolute nightmare. Under stress, her priority was to get whatever tasks she had to accomplish out of her face as quickly as possible, no matter if they were done appropriately or with due care or attention or not.

I chalked it up then, as I do now, to human nature. That’s just how she responded to having multiple — and sometimes competing objectives to fill — and had no time to accomplish them and make everyone happy.

Clients would leave nonplussed, but to my colleague, it was all good — she felt as if she did her job.

Fast forward to today, when the last CFS supervisor to eyeball Phoenix Sinclair’s case spent an agonizing second day on the witness stand, called to account for a case she had no real reason to give too much attention to in March 2005, for reasons explained below.

The final protection file opening and subsequent closing for Phoenix appeared doomed from the start to not produce any meaningful intervention by CFS.

And in hindsight, we can judge and condemn all we want, but the reality is, taken in the context of the CFS crisis-response system which existed back then, Phoenix’s case likely got more attention from the system than it might have otherwise, strange as that is to suggest given the outcome, I know.

Let’s start from the top:

That March, CRU took it’s usual hefty number of referral calls — 1,311 — following a February where there were 1,342, which resulted in just a handful of the available CRU field workers doing 529 investigations over the 20 or so business days available to them.

At that time, the whole “walk of shame” issue (the process of the Intake Unit — the squad which was supposed to take files from CRU where follow up was needed — was rejecting files and sending them back down despite policy indicating that wasn’t to happen.)

The math worked out today laid bare the grim fact that workers doing field calls — workers like Richard Buchkowsi, Christopher Zalevich and Bill Leskiw — were basically given 1-1.5 hours to work on each of the five new files they would be handed each day.

Nobody appeared to have any training in the provincial standards, and there also appeared to be several schools of thought on which standards actually applied at the time. There were older ones and newish “draft” ones floating around. In the absence of that, Faria says “best practice” was the standard — trying to meet “optimal outcomes” for kids given the myriad of challenges her unit faced.

And that’s just a hint of the structural/internal stuff going on, just months before Winnipeg CFS went “live” under devolution (although the exact impact this sea change had on the CRU/Intake procedure has yet to be fleshed out in full).

Now, moving to the actual work on Phoenix’s case:

March 5 (a Saturday): The call comes in to the after-hours unit (AHU). A CFS foster parent gives second-hand information alleging Phoenix was being abused and possibly locked in a room by Samantha Kematch. The source who made the call to AHU suggests she was met with argument after refusing to divulge who was giving the information. She also disputed whether call-taker Jacki Davidson captured the full spirit of their conversation.

In any event, the investigation ball then got rolling with these eight sentences crafted by Davidson:

“Spoke to an ex foster child today. She refused to provide me with the person’s name. This person told (the source) that she suspects that Samantha Kematch is abusing her daughter Phoenix… (source) does not have any details as to what this alleged abuse might be. Also this person suspects that Samantha may be locking Phoenix in her bedroom. I explained that we need to speak directly to (the informant), but despite being an agency foster home she refused to disclose the name ….  does not have an address or phone number for Samantha other that she lives in apartment one beside the Maryland hotel. I explained that without an address we will be unable to follow up. The last address on CFSIS is on McGee. For consideration by CRU.”

Davidson also cut-and-pasted a file history on Kematch and the case (a practice, no surprise, which is now forbidden). The history missing key information from January 2004 and December 2004 past interventions — One of them possibly because of a computer glitch. It also contains no mention of ‘Wes McKay’ for whomever gets the file to follow up on.

The file Davidson worked up is also, for some unknown reason, missing a routine “Safety Assessment” form which would tell the CRU worker how quickly they should respond.

The file sits until Monday morning, when supervisor Diana Verrier passes it off to worker Richard Buchkowski. Buchkowski doesn’t hesitate to act, believing the case to be a “high priority” to look into. He gets right on it, the file shows.

He calls welfare, which for some reason has no record of the family. His next call is the Winnipeg School Division, which nets him an address. He then proceeds to go to Kematch’s apartment twice that day but couldn’t get in. (see Sunday’s blog).

He goes back to the office and recommends the file — now 48 hours old and reaching the expected shelf-life of files in CRU — be passed up the chain to intake for them to look into. That’s their job — and it seemed to work just fine in January 2004 and January-February 2003 when intake workers followed up.

Intake, however, rejected it. Nobody knows why — or at least they’re not saying — but heavy workload is clearly an influence.

The same day Buchkowski and Verrier say the file should go upstairs, Diva Faria gets the file back and hands it off to Zalevich near the end of his day. It’s unclear why, but it sits for another day before he heads out to Kematch’s home with Leskiw.

One thing was clear, and Faria admitted it freely: This was a child-protection investigation.

Faria said in her testimony she had the following expectations of workers as their boss (not an exclusive list):

She expected Zalevich, the primary, to review any available information on Kematch and Steve Sinclair’s cases which was available to him on the computer (he doesn’t have appeared to). Leskiw, she said, was a more experienced worker who she expected would step in and “redirect” Zalevich if he missed something important (Leskiw denies he was really there for anything but to preserve safety in case things got volatile or an apprehension was warranted). Faria expected workers to prepare their own case histories, she testified. (Zalevich worked off the incomplete one as written by Davidson. Leskiw says he knew nothing of the case).

As already made apparent in several reports, the workers show up and Kematch won’t let them in. They instead meet with her outside her door in her building’s tiny hallway so they can speak privately. She effectively blows off any abuse, admits to having a lock on her door and they caution her about it. She shows off her healthy baby and declines services. They leave her a card.

Zalevich and Leskiw return to the office. Zalevich says he and Faria discussed the case and she said it could be closed despite the fact Phoenix wasn’t seen by him. She can’t recall any discussion or testify to anything beyond what’s in the file notes.

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Nevertheless, as we see, Zalevich typed up his file and recommendation to close it, saying, “workers did not note any protection concerns“.

Faria signs it and the file is closed.

There’s huge questions which were left hanging.

The most important of them being: How does it compute that there’s an abuse allegation and workers left without seeing the child and then state there’s no child-protection concerns?

The workers didn’t go in the apartment or see Phoenix’s living environment or examine the lock on the door, so how can there be a finding they noted no protection concerns? Phoenix, it can’t be understated, was four years old and not in school at this time.

Why does it matter that they “did not note” any protection concerns? Is the question to be asked not: What efforts were made to substantiate or disprove the allegations?

Apparently not.

And as a supervisor, what efforts did Faria make to look the file over, to question what work that been done? She testified she would have been trying to ensure workers were following “best practice.”

“Yes, if it’s achievable based on the organizational and systemic challenges,” she said.

And, like it or lump it, those challenges were real within CFS.

And there was work done on the file — done by a unit that shouldn’t have really had it in the first place.

In many ways I think what Faria was trying to say in a lot of her answers was that the system, at the time, was engineering paths to failure.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that it was her oversight on the file which is why she was in the witness chair answering questions.

But it was really one of the last queries — from her own lawyer, Kris Saxberg — which, to me, underscored what’s really going on here:

“I took down (from your earlier evidence) — you indicated if you were not able to determine there were child-protection concerns then you would advance the file (up to Intake). Is ‘not able’ to identify child protection concern similar or different than not having child-protection concerns?”

“If you’re not able, you don’t have any child-protection concerns,” Faria replied.

So there you have it: In the odd logic of CFS circa 2000-2005, you can’t be expected to find what you’re not looking for.

On the flip side, Faria, like Zalevich, shouldn’t be blamed for being put in a situation where failure seems like an inevitable outcome.

Intake should have taken the file. I’m hoping we find more about why they didn’t.

(CRU STATS from 2002 —call levels stay roughly the same through the years)
(CRU STATS from 2002 —call levels stay roughly the same through the years)

Will add more of the CRU statistics disclosures as they are posted by the commission. I can say that from what we’ve seen, referrals stay consistently above the 1,000/month as time goes on.

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Phoenix Inquiry: Karl McKay’s digits and the perils of old technology

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(Karl McKay, 2006)

Exactly one month before a Winnipeg CFS worker went to probe an abuse complaint at Samantha Kematch’s home and left without physically seeing her daughter, another crisis-response worker along for the ride handled an unrelated call from her boyfriend, Karl Wesley (Wes) McKay.

And just two months before the Feb 9, 2005 intake unit referral Bill Leskiw handled, CFS had been scrambling to try and uncover information about McKay, but didn’t have his proper name or correct birthdate.

But a brief review of records tabled at the inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair’s death show that if internal files had been able to be cross-referenced by phone number at the time Leskiw dealt with McKay, CFS then had another chance to connect the dots and link the real Karl McKay to Samantha Kematch and Phoenix.

But it appears the limitations of the CFS computer system — CFSIS — in 2005 wouldn’t have allowed this. (CFSIS was created in 1993)

The inability of CFS to uncover who McKay actually was has been seen as a major turning point and failing of the child-welfare system in Phoenix’s case, with one supervisor saying uncovering the information likely would have “changed everything.”

Screen Shot 2013-01-16 at 6.28.25 PMHe and Kematch are serving life sentences for first-degree murder in connection to Phoenix’s June 14, 2005 death by horrific abuse. McKay was considered a “high risk” domestic violence offender who had a lengthy history with CFS and a major drinking problem.

Wednesday, the inquiry briefly tabled a document showing McKay called CFS and left a phone number of 783-7516.

That phone number is the same CFS had listed for Kematch when the agency became involved in her life after the birth of her fourth child on Nov. 30, 2004.

It’s also the number Kematch gave the welfare office and Manitoba Vital Statistics when applying for benefits days after the baby’s birth.

Given conduct of the case, worker Shelley Willox (then Wiebe) initially recommended — and her supervisor agreed — the file be transferred to a separate CFS unit to fully investigate Kematch, Phoenix and their living circumstances, also to get to the bottom of who “Wes McKay” was.

But the file was instead handed back to Willox for follow up, outside the expected practice within CFS, where CRU was only to hold files for up to 48 hours before transferring or closing them. She made calls trying to get information but found little at hand. The case was closed Dec. 7, 2004 citing a lack of child-protection concerns.

Fast forward to March 9, 2005, the day Leskiw and Christopher Zalevich met with Kematch at her home and left without seeing Phoenix despite the suspected abuse. Leskiw was only along for the ride as backup and said Wednesday he had no recall of the visit.

This became the last chance Winnipeg CFS would have to intervene in Phoenix’s life before Kematch and McKay moved to the Fisher River First Nation and murdered the little girl inside a home. Zalevich and his supervisor, Diva Faria, recommended the file be closed on the same day Zalevich visited the home and didn’t see Phoenix.

In the case history Zalevich was working off of, there’s no mention of McKay nor anything referring to the December 2004 intervention. It had been omitted after the worker who took the complaint cut-and-pasted the file history from other documents — a practice now forbidden in CFS crisis-response units.

Leskiw said he didn’t remember anything about the call that day or if Zalevich told him anything about why they were going to see Kematch.

He said there was no way for him to connect his February interaction with McKay with the call Zalevich was handling. “I have to focus on my own cases, my own files,” he said. No details of why McKay called CFS were discussed.

It was later disclosed in another record (April 18, 2005) relating to McKay’s ex that she had “adopted plans” to have one of McKay’s kids “stay with his birth dad, Karl McKay for the upcoming summer.” Leskiw was also referenced in that record as the “intake/service worker” at the time, but the record related to another CFS department.

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Phoenix Inquiry: What CFS had on Karl (Carl?) ‘Wes’ (Wesley?) McKay and — when

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(Phoenix was murdered by Karl McKay and Samantha Kematch in 2005, months after CFS last had contact with her)

The last couple of days of testimony have delved into and exposed — to some decent degree — the fact CFS workers never searched out Karl Wesley McKay’s background or did a “prior contact check”  in the CFS database. Nor, it must be said — did CFS even ask for his full name when they discovered he was staying with Samantha Kematch and Phoenix in July 2004.

I’ve done stories here, and here on this vital issue. I don’t use the word vital lightly.

Here’s how it was put by former Winnipeg CFS intake supervisor Carolyn Parsons today of what happened when McKay’s name surfaced for the second time in 2004 on Dec. 1.

“I think if in this time we had been able to determine Mr. McKay’s history — that certainly would have changed everything and I think that’s something that every person who’s been involved with this situation wishes had happened.”

At that time, they entered the name they had in the CFSIS database and gave it a Jan. 1, 1980 date of birth — a typical practice when a person’s actual birthdate couldn’t be located.

Today, inquiry staff released an exhibit from the province as to what CFS workers would have found if they had been able to track his name in the system. It’s apparent there was confusion — and the issue exposes what was an apparent limitation of the computer system at the time.

Sometimes the first name McKay used was Carl, other times Wesley, sometimes Wesley Carl,  Wes and finally, Karl. Seems the only time in 2004 his real name appeared was on May 28, 2004 after he marched into a welfare office and tried to claim Phoenix on his budget.

Sadly, his name wouldn’t be conclusively linked to Kematch’s case in the CFS database until March 15, 2006 — five days after RCMP announced Phoenix’s death had been uncovered and McKay and Kematch arrested. I note with interest that RCMP at the time spelled his first name as “Carl.”

It was also around the very day RCMP laid first-degree murder charges against the despicable pair for the murder of Phoenix through abuse and confinement in a cold basement.

If CFS had dug into his background in 2004, they would have found him referenced in eight separate files dating back from March 1996 to fall 2000 when his partner’s two kids (one of them was his) were made permanent wards of CFS.

Here’s a just few lowlights of the disclosed files — and this is certainly not exhaustive:

  • April 1998: CFS informed McKay had (again) beaten up on his partner at the time, breaking her nose. Investigators felt neither he nor she had “any insight into the impact this was having on the two children and the potential risk to them … Probation services later advised of the severity of the assaults on ** by Carl McKay. These included him having taken the supporting leg off the bathroom sink and beating her with it.”
  • June 1998: One of the kids is found wearing only a diaper and a sweatshirt on the corner of William Avenue and Isabel Street in the company of a drunk male. “She was immediately apprehended,” the agency said.
  • Sept. 25 2008: “Wesley left a phone message stating (his partner) was an alcoholic and had problems. Wesley sounded as though he was intoxicated. He appeared to be very vindictive and left the message out of revenge.”
  • Early 1999: McKay fails to follow through in family violence programming and a “better fathering group” … “he failed to internalize his violent offending behaviour and had persisted in denying and/or minimizing the problem. It was apparent to probation services that Carl was only complying with the order minimally because he felt forced to do so.”
  • February 1999: His then partner heads to a shelter but is stays only a few days before going back to McKay. “It was her contention that the reasons she reconciled with him was that she had nowhere else to go.”
  • March 1999: “Report comes in through CFS that … (she) had been assaulted by Carl McKay.”
  • 1999: McKay is described as being “uncooperative” the agency.

Under a section called “identified problems,” a worker in September 2000 — the same month Kematch regained custody of Phoenix — wrote: “Carl Wesley McKay poses a threat to the children both directly and indirectly in terms of his propensity for violence,” and that he has little or “any insight into the impact … lifestyles have had on the two children. ”

Under ‘interventions,’ the worker says both McKay and his then-partner were “directed to participate in programming to address addictions issues, domestic violence, anger management, issues of victimization only to be met with failure.”

“My own contact with Mr. McKay has been non-existent in spite of several attempts. On several occasions I attended to his residence at (redacted) in order to serve him with court documents but without any success. In co-operation with probation services. I attended to the Law Courts building on the date of one of his court appearances for Breach of Probation. However he failed to appear in court.”

In June 2000, a worker wrote McKay was “identified by probation services as an extremely high offender re: domestic assault”

Like I said above, this was not exhaustive of what the files contain. But it spells out a little further what a risk McKay was.

McKay on the record in 2003, but not on CFS radar

That said — It hasn’t been mentioned yet that McKay’s name actually surfaced much earlier than 2004 — a year earlier in fact, and still no one appeared to ask who he was.

Note the date: This was right after Phoenix was taken into care a second time and Kematch suddenly surfaced after nearly two years expressing an interest in parenting her.

Most importantly: Note how McKay’s name is spelled . Odd, isn’t it? Odd because that’s the correct spelling.

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Now: here’s what the worker present — Laura Forrest had to say in her testimony about McKay’s appearance in court that day:

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“I asked her the name and she gave me the name and I believe a date of birth,” Laura Forrest said. It’s in my addendum, she said.

Here’s the relevant section of that addendum:

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“Worker learned that Samantha has been in a relationship with (redacted) DUB- October 12, 1974 – for two years. has met Phoenix and has some knowledge about the situation, but Samantha did not feel comfortable discussing all the issues in front of him. (redacted) companied Samantha to court.”

It’s Karl McKay’s name on the court transcript.

But his actual birthdate is March 28, 1962, not October ’74. Was it him? Or just another of Kematch’s lies to CFS?

Note how Forrest phrased this in her testimony: “I asked her his name and she gave me the name and I believe a date of birth.”

One thing’s apparent: It’s too bad questions weren’t posed directly to McKay himself.

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Just for the heck of it, here’s a letter Probation Services wrote to CFS in 1999 about McKay.

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Phoenix Inquiry: The curious case of the slimmed-down summary

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(Phoenix Sinclair)

Another illuminating moment today at the inquiry into how Phoenix Sinclair fell through the cracks of our provincial child-protection system.

It had to do with the information social workers rely on when assessing the urgency — some may describe that as ‘risk’ — when responding to a case; specifically, how soon Phoenix needed the system’s attention.

I’ve written before about social worker Laura Forrest being lauded in at least one internal review after Phoenix’s death (as well as by CFS employees on the witness stand) regarding her June 2003 case summary, which finally put together all available information about the case and the concerning backgrounds of her parents.

Forrest saw that, all things considered, her case was high risk and that CFS couldn’t go away from her life.

Her risk assessment would ultimately be deemed an “opinion” by subsequent workers and tossed aside to allow Steve Sinclair a fresh start with CFS and a new worker after Phoenix was taken from him in June 2003.

By the time Sinclair regained custody of her on Oct. 2, 2003, colleague and case worker Stan Williams’s closing summary of the case looked starkly different than Forrest’s.

I won’t reprint Forrest’s in its entirety, it’s pages long and extremely deep (it can be found here) Below, however, is the final, but still lengthy section in her ‘Statement of Risk.’

“Steven and Samantha have clearly indicated their mistrust and unwillingness to be involved with a child welfare agency however they have not demonstrated a capacity and commitment to ensure their child’s wellbeing enough for the agency not to be involved. Unfortunately. because of their past involvement as wards of a child welfare agency they arc not receptive to services from the agency and they deny or minimize any Issues presented in an effort to keep the agency away from them. They would do anything, or nothing, to keep the agency at bay. It is this worker’s opinion that it is this attitude and disregard for the agency that has probably resulted in this agency’s previous termination of services, and not a lack of child welfare issues, If one looks back in previous recording the identified and unresolved problems are still very much present in the family’s current situation. The problems haven’t gone away, and now neither can the agency. The obvious struggle in commitment, questionable parenting capacity, along with an unstable home environment and substance abuse lssue(s), and lack of positive support system all lend to a situation that poses a high level of risk to this child, for maltreatment and / or placement in agency care. Phoenix Is in agency care no(w) and it would probably not be in her best interests to be returned to either parent at this time or until they can show something to indicate that they can and will be more responsible and protective other.”

Now, for the sake of contrast, here’s Stan Williams’s final word on the case, under the “Unresolved Problems‘ section. It was authored around the time Phoenix was allowed by CFS to go back to dad unconditionally without having taken any programming for his alcohol problem.

“Mr. Sinclair requested his child stay in care until he felt strong enough to care for her again. He has had his time out and will parent Phoenix starting Oct. 2, 2003. He has done no programming and as such is prone to an unhealthy way of managing stresses in his life. He is aware of the need to arrange for appropriate alternative caregivers when he feels the need for a break or time out for respite.”

It goes without saying there’s a massive difference between the tone, content and, I submit — the intent of the two statements, prepared mere months apart by different social workers with apparently different mindsets.

But the net effect of this apparent discretionary revisionism was revealed today in relation to how another social worker, Lisa Conlin (and, her supervisor) started off their investigation into subsequent allegations Phoenix could be at risk in January 2004.

Conlin says she didn’t or can’t remember looking at past Kematch or Sinclair files the agency had on record when the file came to her on Jan. 20, 2004.

Did you look up either of the parents’ information on CFSIS (the internal computer system)?, commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked.

“Well, I believe I for sure would have looked at his (inaudible) that was open to me,” she said.

At Steve Sinclair’s?

“Steve Sinclair’s. That would be my typical practice,” she said.

And what would you have looked at? What information would you have looked at?

“The last closing summary,” Conlin replied.

So in this case, that’s the one at November 2003 (The Williams closing summary, referenced above.)? What about the one immediately before that — still in Mr. Sinclair’s file, from March 2002 — would you have looked at that one as well?

“I don’t specifically recall that one.”

You don’t recall looking at that one?

“No.”

Was it your practice, typically, just to look at the most recent file closing?

“Typically, because, what happens is the latest worker would have summarized already the previous closing summary — so you get a recent summary in the most recent closing. Just like when the intake initially comes to me from the Crisis Response Unit, there’s a summary … in there.” (To be fair, there was also a short ‘cut and pasted’ recounting of the family’s history and CFS involvement in that summary).

So if we look at the summary you would have reviewed … (Nov. 13, 2003, the Williams summary) under the heading ‘unresolved problems’ (Walsh reads the section, listed above, aloud to her)

“I don’t recall exactly when I looked at this,” she says. “It’s just something (as a matter of practice) I would have done,” said Conlin.

———

As you can clearly see, there’s a huge discrepancy in content and tone between the Forrest and Williams case summaries.

One (Forrest’s) darkly and deeply warns of the risk Phoenix was in and — by my reading — essentially urges the agency to stay involved in the little girl’s life.

The other, Williams’ laconic five-sentence-long summary essentially — to me — suggests almost the polar opposite – that the agency take a hands-off approach for the young dad who just needed a time out from parenting. (as if that wasn’t a warning sign in itself).

Problem is, when problems crept up again a few months later, Conlin, a busy social worker handling short-term child-protection intervention calls in the city’s most challenged area — likely only had so much time to delve into the file. Who knows. Maybe she just didn’t see the need to look further given the presenting child-welfare issues in the case she was to look into.

But it’s clear to me, at least, that it’s certainly more likely a social worker’s guard would have been raised significantly more if Forrest’s case summary had remained the one at the top of the pile.

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