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Okanagan Nation Alliance demands inquiry into foster care after fraudulent social worker case

Saunders stole approximately $461,000 intended for 107 primarily Indigenous youth in his care

A few months after the damage caused by a fraudulent social worker was brought to light, the Okanagan Nation Alliance is demanding a public inquiry.

The Okanagan Alliance is asking for thorough investigation into the “circumstances surrounding the fraud and theft that Saunders was able to commit,” as well as a review of the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD).

Robert Riley Saunders was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to three charges of fraud, breach of trust and using a forged document on July 25, following a lengthy trial in a Kelowna Supreme Court.

At the beginning of his career, Saunders forged a degree in Social Work to secure a job. He never attended school as a social worker and was hired by MCFD staff who failed to properly check his educational credentials, said the B.C. Association of Social Workers in a press release.

While working at the Ministry of Children and Family Development as a social worker, Robert Riley Saunders stole approximately $461,000 that was intended for over 107 vulnerable, primarily First Nations, youth in his care.

READ MORE: 5 years prison time ‘not enough’ for fraudulent social worker: First Nations leaders

As a youth guardianship worker, Saunders created 24 joint bank accounts with the youth to which he would deposit fundsintended for the youth. He would then transfer the funds to his bank account.

Saunders would then create additional paperwork to make it look like the youth were receiving the cheques.

On May 20, a Kelowna Supreme Court judge ruled that the misappropriation of funds negatively impacted the youth in Saunders’ care, an aggravating factor of the case which Saunders repeatedly denied while under cross-examination during the earlier Gardiner hearing.

“Mr. Saunders’ moral and ethical compass was as good as he could get away with,” said Justice Wilson.

READ MORE: Kelowna ex-social worker claims youth he defrauded were not entitled to funds

Following the investigation, the Okanagan Nation wants recommendations for change be made, to ensure undetected internal MCFD fraud does not happen again.

The Alliance said that they demand systemic changes be made to the child welfare system in B.C., in order to increase safety and fulfill the obligation of reconciliation that the MCFD has with First Nations and Indigenous People.


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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