Robert Riley Saunders. (File)

Another Indigenous foster child sues Kelowna social workers over misuse of funds, neglect

Robert Riley Saunders is facing another lawsuit for allegedly stealing money from foster children

Another Indigenous woman is alleging she was neglected, abused and defrauded while in B.C. foster care.

The now 19-year-old filed a civil claim on Dec. 20 naming Kelowna social workers Robert Riley Saunders, Siobhan Stynes and Terra Plut; the director of Child, Family and Community Services; two people only identified as Jane Doe and John Doe; Interior Savings; and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The Capital News has decided not to name the plaintiff due to the nature of the allegations.

She claims she was harmed by the defendants’ negligence and breach of trust, and by a misappropriation of funds and benefits meant for her care. As a result of this negligence the woman was subjected to homeless, sexual exploitation and substance abuse.

Saunders is the subject of several other suits of a similar nature in which he allegedly set up joint bank accounts with children in care, allegedly taking some the funds for his personal use.

History of physical and sexual assault

“The plaintiff’s physical and psychological health suffered as a result of the defendants’ acts and omissions,” read the suit.

“The plaintiff was sexually exploited and operated from and deprived of a relationship with her children. The plaintiff’s trust and confidence in parental and authority figures has been severely compromised.”

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The victim claims she experienced multiple incidents of sexual, physical and emotional abuse since she entered the system after being taken from her mother at three years old.

In March 2016, the woman gave birth to her first child, who was apprehended by the province and placed in another home on the basis the woman was homeless and “lacked the resources to care for her child.” The woman requested to live independently with her child, citing the placement family had “serious drug and alcohol problems.” That request was denied and she moved in with the family her child was placed with.

At this time, she came into contact with several of the people and entities named in the suit.

In October 2016, the placement family’s father figure overdosed on injection opioids in a child’s bedroom at his residence. A paramedic reported that he was resuscitated with Narcan.

This incident prompted the province to cancel the woman and her child’s placement with that family but again would not approve an independent living arrangement and failed to provide suitable food, clothing or shelter until February 2018.

Without appropriate living arrangements the woman claims she was essentially homeless, causing her to develop a substance use disorder and subjected her to sexual exploitation.

Saunders alleged theft occurs

In March 2017, Saunders and the woman allegedly opened a joint bank account or trust account, under the pretext that Saunders would give the plaintiff funds using the account.

“Saunders used the account to deposit cheques made out to the plaintiff that were intended to provide the plaintiff with funds for food, clothing and shelter,” read the suit. “Saunders then transferred the plaintiff’s funds to his own account and used the funds to pay for trips, vehicles and his own mortgage for himself and his family.”

The woman had another child in June 2017. The child was apprehended by Saunders, on behalf of the province, and removed from the woman’s custody again due to her living situation.

In Dec. 2017, the alleged theft was detected by the director of Child, Family and Community Services. Saunders closed the account on Jan. 8, 2018 and allegedly took the remaining funds for himself.

Saunders is accused of being engaged in “similar unlawful and inexcusable activities in respect to dozens of children in his care, most of whom were Indigenous children.”

MCFD accused of failing the plaintiff

The shortcomings of the director, the province, Saunders, Stynes, Plut, Jane and John Doe are also described in the suit, alleging they all knew the woman was effectively homeless at 15 and failed to take action to secure a safe shelter for her.

“The director failed to implement adequate systems, restraints and controls to detect and prevent Saunders’ misappropriation of funds and benefits,” read the suit.

“(They) failed to conduct reviews of Saunders’ files to detect whether Saunders was carrying out his duties appropriately and in accordance with the plaintiff’s best interests.”

The director of Child, Family and Community services is accused of failing to effectively communicate “the dysfunction of the aboriginal/high-risk division of the MCFD office in Kelowna to the assistant deputy minister.”

None of the suit’s allegations have been proven in court and no responses have been filed to the claim.


@michaelrdrguez
michael.rodriguez@kelownacapnews.com

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