The B.C. Association of Social Workers says that a “social work imposter’s sentence” should encourage the government to protect the public through professional regulation.
Robert Riley Saunders was sentenced to five years in prison on July 25, following a lengthy trial in a Kelowna Supreme Court.
While working at the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) as a social worker, Saunders stole approximately $461,000 that was intended for over 107 youth in his care.
Saunders was hired by MCFD staff who failed to properly check his educational credentials, said the Association in a press release.
He was fired in 2018 when financial irregularities and fraud were discovered, and the University of Manitoba social work degree was found to be forged.
The Association of Social Workers said that they support the sentence.
“Saunders deprived youth of the resources they needed to succeed in life, particularly when they were leaving the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” said BCASW president Michael Crawford.
The Association launched a campaign amend the B.C. Social Workers Act to require that all social workers be registered with the B.C. College of Social Workers.
Further, the campaign seeks to ensure that the title “social worker” is fully protected from use by unregulated persons.
Currently, the ministry regulates the Social Workers Act and maintains an exemption for their staff from the Act, which requires social workers to be registered.
“Had Saunders been required to apply for registration with the B.C. College of Social Workers prior to being hired by MCFD, the College’s strict vetting process would have caught his fraudulent educational credentials, refused him registration, and MCFD would not have hired him, sparing dozens of children and youth from the consequences of his criminal behaviour,” said Crawford. “Registered social workers are committed to a strong code of ethics, adhere to clearly defined practice standards, and have their practice overseen by their peers through the regulatory college.”
The lack of regulation of the title ‘social worker’ leads to confusion among the public about the role of social workers and significantly affects the trust the public and recipients of service can have in social workers, said Crawford.
Saunders will serve five years for fraud and two years concurrently for breach of trust and one month for forged document.