$15M proposed settlement in case of disgraced Kelowna social worker prompts call for changes at ministry level | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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$15M proposed settlement in case of disgraced Kelowna social worker prompts call for changes at ministry level

FILE PHOTO - Robert Riley Saunders
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
July 17, 2020 - 11:51 AM

The association that represents social worker's in B.C. is calling on the province to change the Social Workers Act to strengthen child welfare services and protect the public following the $15 million settlement in connection to the conduct of a disgraced former Kelowna social worker.

"(Robert Riley Saunders) was able to secure employment as a child welfare social worker with (Ministry of Children and Family Development) and allegedly stole money from 102 victims," B.C. Association of Social Workers president Michael Crawford said in a press release. "He hurt the very children and youth he was hired to protect and care for."

Saunders worked for ministry from 2001 until he was fired in 2018 and now faces dozens of lawsuits. Saunders' clients could soon be compensated by province. According to court documents filed in Supreme Court Tuesday, July 14, the ministry reached a settlement agreement for children in Saunders' care and it is scheduled to go before a judge on July 28.

The deal could cost the province as much as $15 million and will provide $25,000 for each of the 102 former clients regardless of their current circumstances. Indigenous clients will receive an extra $44,000 each. Victims who suffered homelessness, sexual exploitation, and physical or sexual abuse can apply for an additional $181,000 in damages.

READ MORE: Province reaches $15M proposed settlement in case of Kelowna social worker who bilked children in care

"The (B.C. Association of Social Workers) opposes the practice of using the title social worker for those with no formal social work education because it misleads clients and the public" Crawford said. "The ministry not only referred to Mr. Saunders as a social worker; they hired him based on a falsified university degree parchment."

Saunders had forged his University of Manitoba diplomas and had never graduated from a degree program.

Not all B.C. social workers are required to register with the B.C. College of Social Workers; a regulatory body established to serve and protect the public and to superintend the practice of social work. The Social Workers Act provides many exceptions that excuse social workers from registration including that the Ministry of Family and Social Development is an exempt employer under the act, according to the social workers association.

The association is advocating for changes with the ministry that includes the protection of the title social worker, mandatory registration for all social workers with the B.C. College of Social Workers, and a rollback of a 2019 decision to hire child welfare staff with lower educational qualifications.

Find past stories on Robert Riley Saunders here.

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