Child-welfare workers lost track of Phoenix Sinclair, inquiry hears
Five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair was killed on the Fisher River Cree Nation in June 2005.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, December 10, 2012 3:56PM EST
WINNIPEG -- Officials with Manitoba child welfare were unaware in April 2004 that a little girl was living with her mother -- the same woman who would help kill her.
The revelation at an inquiry Monday into Phoenix Sinclair's death is the latest evidence that social workers were frequently unable to monitor the child before she was beaten to death at the age of five in June 2005.
"There was some discrepancy with regards to where this child should be placed and who should have custody," said a social assistance case worker, who cannot be identified under a court-ordered publication ban.
The inquiry is examining how Manitoba child welfare failed to protect Phoenix, who was taken days after her birth from her parents, Samantha Kematch and Steve Sinclair. Kematch and Sinclair had violent pasts and substance abuse problems and were so uninterested in being parents that they didn't buy baby clothes or supplies before the girl's birth.
The inquiry has already been told that Phoenix spent her first few months in foster care, but was returned to her parents, who increasingly left her in the care of friends.
Over the ensuing years, social workers were frequently unaware of who was taking care of the girl and failed to inspect the homes where she was living.
In April 2004, Kematch, who had been out of the picture for months, showed up at the home of Rohan Stephenson, a family friend, and took Phoenix. Social workers had told Stephenson he was not to give Phoenix to either of her parents -- or anyone else -- without telling them, but he ignored the warning.
Kematch's actions only came to light, the inquiry was told Monday, because she applied to have her welfare payments increased by listing Phoenix as a dependent living with her.
The social assistance case worker checked into the family's file and found out that Kematch was not supposed to have Phoenix. In May 2004, the case worker alerted social workers at Winnipeg Child and Family Services who had dealt with the family, but got mixed messages.
"Sorry to keep bugging you, but other people from the agency are really confusing me," the worker wrote in an email, released at the inquiry, to intake worker Lisa Mirochnick.
"They state that their files say nothing about the child not being allowed to stay with mother Samantha Kematch, but I do believe you told me that the child is to not to be in the mother's care."
Social workers investigated, but an internal review by the Winnipeg agency showed they didn't manage a face-to-face meeting with Kematch until July.
The following spring, Phoenix was beaten to death by Kematch and her boyfriend Karl McKay. The couple's murder trial was told Phoenix had been subjected to horrific abuse and neglect. She had been shot with a BB gun, forced to eat her own vomit and had been frequently confined to a makeshift pen on the concrete basement floor.
Her death went undetected for nine months.