Phoenix Sinclair's mom regained custody without a psych test

Screen grab of Samantha Kematch being interviewed by police investigating the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair on Fisher River First Nation in June 2005.



WINNIPEG - Phoenix Sinclair was returned to the care of her young parents less than six months after Manitoba Child and Family Services seized the girl at birth, citing serious concerns about their capacity to parent her, a public inquiry into her death heard Thursday.

As well, Samantha Kematch, then 19, was reunited with her daughter despite not undergoing a psychological assessment - a key provision in a parenting plan put forward by social workers shortly after they apprehended Phoenix.

Kematch herself was involved in the CFS system as a youth, had a rough and troubled past and had already had a child seized by CFS before becoming pregnant with Phoenix.

"Given what I had I would say she had improved, I guess, yes," social worker Kerri-Lynn Greeley testified of Kematch's progress around the time Phoenix was returned to her mother and her file was transferred to another Winnipeg CFS case worker in October 2000.

"I never experienced her being aggressive towards me or being non-co-operative with the agency."

Aggressiveness was a concern raised about Kematch by a fellow CFS colleague a few months earlier.

The inquiry is delving into the role CFS played in Phoenix's short life, which came to a horrific end at age five in the basement of a Fisher River First Nation home in 2005.

Kematch and former boyfriend Karl McKay are currently serving life sentences in prison for first-degree murder. Phoenix was subjected to horrific abuse and confined.

Asked if she considered waiting until the results of Kematch's psychological evaluation were tabled before releasing Phoenix back into her care, Greeley admitted she had the option of doing so. She testified she didn't remember considering that at the time.

"It was my belief ... the parents needed to be given an opportunity to parent her," Greeley said.

The inquiry heard a formal written report was never produced by the psychiatrist who conducted Kematch's psych exam on Sept. 13, 2000 - eight days after Kematch and Phoenix's father Steve Sinclair regained custody of her.

The inquiry resumes Monday.

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