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Manager can find no fault with actions of CFS staffers

'Nothing... that jumps out at me' in handling of Phoenix case

A manager in charge of some of the child-welfare workers and supervisors involved with Phoenix Sinclair said he has no concerns about anyone's job performance related to the case.

"There's nothing that I've read that jumps out at me," Dan Berg told the inquiry into Phoenix's death Wednesday.

Berg was a Winnipeg Child and Family Services assistant program manager from 2003 to 2005 during the last years of Phoenix's short life. Berg said when he started his job supervising the supervisors, morale was low, workloads were high and there was widespread confusion about the standards they were to follow.

Phoenix was in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000 and killed the summer of 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch and stepfather, Karl McKay. Her death wasn't discovered until 2006. Kematch and McKay were convicted in 2008 of her murder and in 2011, the province ordered an inquiry into how the little girl fell through Manitoba's child-welfare safety net.

The inquiry has heard workers closed Phoenix's file several times without ever seeing her. When crisis-response-unit workers recommended her file get moved up the chain to the intake unit for longer-term investigation, it was returned to the crisis responders. Crisis-response-unit supervisor Diva Faria told the inquiry earlier it happened frequently, and that Berg referred to it as "the walk of shame."

"I'm not sure who coined the phrase," Berg testified Wednesday. "It's an irrelevant comment." It pointed to the "significant tension" over cases being passed back from the intake and abuse units to the front-line crisis-response unit. When unit supervisors disagreed over who should take the file, they were supposed to try and work out an amicable settlement, he said. If they couldn't, they were supposed to go to him to settle it. Berg recalled one such incident involving Faria and the abuse-unit supervisor.

"Things escalated quite strongly," he said. Faria went to his office.

"It was apparent she was quite upset about what transpired," said Berg, who said he was trying to build a more collegial atmosphere. "She looked really beaten down that day... It looked like she was embarrassed." Faria felt the case should've gone up to the abuse unit and she had to take it back down to her staff to do more work on it, he recalled.

The inquiry has been trying to find out why, in Phoenix's case, the intake unit didn't keep her file and do the necessary checking to make sure Phoenix was safe. Her mother was reportedly emotionally abusive and locked her in a bedroom. Her stepfather had a criminal history of domestic abuse and a lengthy CFS file.

The supervisors who've testified at the inquiry already say they can't recall what was, on the surface, an "average" case, or speculate what went wrong. Any notes they may have taken at the time have disappeared or been shredded, said the supervisors who took notes. Some did not.

Berg hasn't been able to fill in the blanks, either.

"We didn't have a very good supervision policy around record-keeping and note-taking," said Berg. In 2004, a supervision policy was put in place that required supervisors to take notes and conduct regular supervision meetings one-on-one with workers.

Berg said he had complete faith in his workers and supervisors. He struggled when asked if they hadn't dropped the ball by not seeing Phoenix or finding out about her stepfather's monstrous past before closing her file.

"Domestic violence alone would have been enough to tip the balance in terms of wanting to proceed with more followup... if that information had been uncovered," said Berg.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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