|Screengrab of Samantha Kematch being interviewed by police investigating the death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair on Fisher River First Nation in June 2005. (HO)
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg psychiatrist called upon by the city child-welfare agency to assess the mental health of Phoenix Sinclair's mother was only asked to delve into whether she may be depressed, and not specifically any risk she posed or her capacity to parent the little girl, a public inquiry heard Monday.
As well, the background information Dr. Gary Altman said he received about mom Samantha Kematch -- a 19-year-old with a seriously troubled background -- came from a verbal briefing about 15 minutes long from a social worker.
The inquiry has already heard that undergoing a mental-health assessment was a key component for Kematch to satisfy before she regained custody of the daughter she and co-culprit, Karl McKay, wound up abusing and murdering in a Fisher River First Nation home in 2005.
Altman performed Kematch's psychological assessment on Sept. 13, 2000 -- eight days after Child and Family Services (CFS) officials had returned Phoenix to the care of Kematch and then-boyfriend Steve Sinclair on conditions they strictly follow a parenting plan.
He testified he was not shown any of the wealth of documentation CFS already had on file about Kematch which formed, to a large degree, the CFS rationale behind why Phoenix was taken from Kematch at birth and placed into care.
Although Altman said he was only asked by CFS to look into the "narrow" issue of whether the young mother was depressed due to her "flat affect," he conceded having a look at additional information may have been helpful to him.
"It would be relevant to a mental health assessment," Altman said.
The public inquiry is delving into what role, if any, the child-welfare system played in the little girl's death and the services CFS did or did not provide to Phoenix -- who had been returned to Kematch a second time and her file closed months before she was killed.
Altman told inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes although he had no specific recollection of meeting with Kematch and Sinclair, his notes indicate social worker Kerri-Lynn Greeley filled him in on various alarming aspects about her background, including prior hostile and aggressive behaviour and that a prior child of hers was also in CFS care.
Altman testified was never tasked with doing any followup with respect to Kematch -- or any other client he evaluated in his years of consulting for various CFS agencies.
"I can't remember a circumstance where I did a followup for any client I had seen for Child and Family Services," he said.
Neither did CFS officials expect him to produce written reports of his findings.
There was nothing in his assessment of Kematch which would have suggested she was capable of murdering her child, Altman testified.