Ministry of Children and Family Development issues comment on Kelowna social worker accused of ripping off youth in care

  • Nov. 10, 2018 5:30 a.m.
Ministry of Children and Family Development issues comment on Kelowna social worker accused of ripping off youth in care

A publication ban has been lifted in the matter involving alleged activities by Kelowna social worker, Robert Riley Saunders.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development Friday night released the steps it took to protect the interests of affected children and youth, and to strengthen the ministry’s internal financial systems and controls. It reads as follows:

With respect to protecting the interests of affected children and youth, the Ministry of Children and Family Devopment took the following steps:

* In December 2017, financial irregularities were brought to the ministry’s attention. In keeping with government policy, the matter was immediately referred to the Office of the Comptroller General.

* In January 2018, steps were taken under the direction of the local ministry office to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of the children, youth and young adults who may have been affected.

READ ALSO: CIVIL SUITS FILED

* In March, the Office of the Provincial Director of Child Welfare launched a special review to ensure that appropriate services and planning were provided for affected children and young adults. Interviews proceeded with ministry staff, children and youth, and their families.

* The ministry notified the Public Guardian and Trustee in March 2018 for its support in protecting the legal interests of children in care.

* Reportable circumstance reports for all affected children in care have been shared with the office of B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth and the Public Guardian and Trustee.

* The individual in question is no longer employed with the BC Public Service.

With respect to examining the ministry’s related financial systems and controls:

* In January 2018, the Office of the Comptroller General commenced an investigation to determine if there was evidence of fraud.

* MCFD engaged the services of a financial consulting firm to conduct a review of the ministry’s financial and internal controls. Recommendations from the firm’s report have been completed, including a systems change to prevent staff from being able to both initiate and print cheques without the involvement of a second staff member. MCFD will be launching a separate review of the ministry’s contracting and payment processes.

* MCFD is also exploring opportunities to reduce the overall reliance on cheque-based payments across the ministry.

* Policy has been strengthened to ensure that, if the ministry finds evidence of financial misuse of government funds on the part of government employees, spending authority is revoked.

* When social workers act in a manner that harms or could harm children, their legislative authority to practice social work can be revoked to protect children, youth and families from the risk of harm.

With the publication ban lifted, the ministry is now able to work collaboratively and share more information with the Ombudsperson, the Representative for Children and Youth, the Public Guardian and Trustee and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Public disclosure of information beyond what is contained in this bulletin is legally restricted.

ORIGINAL NOV. 8 Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from youth now employed at OC

A Kelowna-based social worker is being accused of misappropriating thousands of dollars in financial benefits from Aboriginal youth in his care, leaving them physically and psychologically vulnerable, according to two civil suits filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

A proposed class-action suit filed Nov. 6 in Vancouver by B.C.’s Public Guardian and Trustee, acting on behalf of a teenage girl, alleges social worker Robert Riley Saunders misappropriated funds or benefits or failed to provide adequate support, care and guardianship of a the youth in his care.

A second lawsuit was filed the same day in Kelowna on behalf of another Aboriginal youth who is now an adult.

In the Kelowna case, the teen was in the care of the province. The civil suit alleges that Saunders knowingly moved the teen from a stable home environment into an unstable residential living arrangement to make the them eligible for certain financial benefits from the ministry.

Saunders then allegedly “opened a joint account with the plaintiff at Interior Savings and stole the funds deposited by the ministry into the joint bank accounts by moving them to his own individual account at Interior Savings and by paying his personal expenses by electronic transfer from the joint back account.”

“At all material times, Saunders failed to consider the plaintiff’s best interests or safety and well being,” reads the lawsuit, that also alleges that he was verbally and emotionally abusive.

Because of Saunders alleged actions, the plaintiff’s living station was unstable and transient. He was from time to time homeless and suffered physically and psychologically

The Ministry of Children and Family Development and Interior Savings Financial Services Ltd., are also named in the suit. None of the allegations has been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

The lawsuits don’t specify a dollar figure, but ask for aggravated and punitive damages, the tracing of all funds taken and costs.

Saunders could not be reached, but Allan Coyle, from the Public Affairs Department of Okanagan College, said that Saunders is employed in a contract, term position at Okanagan College in Adult Special Education.

“He is on leave. We are aware of civil lawsuits involving Mr. Saunders,” said Coyle in a statement.

“Protection of privacy laws regarding employees prevent further comment on the situation.

I will assure you that we take the safety of our students very seriously and when we become alert to situations that are cause for concern, we take appropriate action.”

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