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.

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.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna West MLA elect Ben Stewart addresses a small gathering of campaign supporters at the West Kelowna Yacht Club, shortly after hearing of his riding victory on Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo - Phil McLachlan)
Despite NDP majority, Kelowna remains Liberal stronghold

As several ridings in the Lower Mainland fell to the BC NDP, the BC Liberals retained three Kelowna seats

McCleave is eight years old.
AlleyCats pet of the week

Meet McCleave and Nyx

Renee Merrifield speaking to media on her front doorstep after winning the Kelowna-Mission riding for the BC Liberal Party. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Renee Merrifield retains BC Liberal Party’s seat in Kelowna-Mission

Renee Merrifield will take over former BC Liberal Steve Thomson’s seat, which he held for the past 11 years

(Norm Letnick)
BC Liberals’ Norm Letnick keeps Kelowna-Lake Country seat

Letnick acknowledged there could still be changes when mail-in ballots are counted

Kelowna West MLA elect Ben Stewart addresses a small gathering of campaign supporters at the West Kelowna Yacht Club, shortly after hearing of his riding victory. (Photo - Phil McLachlan)
BC Liberal Ben Stewart re-elected as MLA in Kelowna West

Stewart said he did not expect the NDP government to win a majority

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read