Kelowna social workers sued by another former foster child | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna social workers sued by another former foster child

Robert Riley Saunders sold his house for a hefty profit after investigation started into his alleged theft from clients.
Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)
December 30, 2019 - 7:00 AM

Another woman who was raised in B.C.'s foster care system is alleging she was the victim of its negligence and that resulted in her falling victim to fraud and abuse.

The woman, who is now 19 years old and living in Vancouver, filed a civil lawsuit Dec. 20, naming Kelowna social workers Robert Riley Saunders, Siobhan Stynes and Terra Plut as well as the director of Child, Family and Community Services, two parties identified only as John Doe and Jane Doe, Interior Savings and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

"The plaintiff was harmed by Saunders and the other defendants' negligent social work and provision of foster care, by the misappropriation of funds and benefits designated for her care and needs and by their breach of trust and confidence," reads the suit. "The plaintiff's physical and psychological health suffered as a result of the defendants' acts and omissions. 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."

While none of the allegations in the suit have been proven, they paint a disheartening picture of the First Nation woman's life spanning the time from when she was three years old and taken from her mother to when she became a teenage mother of two and eventually had her own children apprehended by ministry workers.

Throughout, there are multiple accounts of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect suffered as she navigated the system.

The suit indicates that her situation got worse in March 2016 when she came in contact with the named social workers when she had her first child. He was taken from her because of her unstable conditions and placed in another home.

READ MORE: Multiple suits filed against Kelowna social worker

At that time she had asked to live independently, and not with relatives the child had been placed with because she had identified them as having "serious alcohol and drug problems." That request was denied and she moved in with them.

Within a year of that request, on Oct. 27, 2016, the father figure in the family she lived with overdosed on injection opioids in a child's bedroom in his own residence. A paramedic reported that he had a needle hanging from his arm and was resuscitated with Narcan.

That's when the director and the province finally cancelled her stay with the home she was in.

Then she allegedly fell victim to more abuse. The woman refused to be placed elsewhere, distrusting the system, and while effectively being homeless, developed a substance use disorder and, according to the suit, was sexually exploited.

On March 26, 2017 foster care intervention came again and an account was opened at Interior Savings Credit Union "on the pretext that Saunders would give the plaintiff's funds using the account," according to the suit.

"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. 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."

On June 30, 2017, the woman gave birth to her second child, and Saunders apprehended the child and removed her from the woman's custody because she was homeless and lacked resources to care for the child.

Saunders, the suit reads, was engaged in the same and similar unlawful activities with dozens of other children in his care, most of whom were indigenous.

HIs alleged theft was noted in December of 2017. Saunders allegedly closed the account Jan. 8, 2018 and took the remaining funds in cash for himself. In February, the woman was offered an independent living arrangement that she accepted.

Concerns about the lack of accountability within the Ministry of Child and Family Development are also outlined in the suit.

The suit alleges that the director, the province, Saunders, Stynes, Plut, Jane and John Doe all knew the woman was effectively homeless at the age of 15 and failed to take reasonable steps to secure shelter for her that wasn't harmful or abusive.

They also didn't provide her with the resources needed to raise her children and ultimately apprehended them, the suit reads.

"The director failed to implement adequate systems, restraints and controls to detect and prevent Saunders' misappropriation of funds and benefits," reads the suit adding that the director, Jane and John Doe, Stynes and Plut failed to conduct reviews of Saunders' files to detect whether he was conducting his work within the woman's best interests.

These same parties also failed to hold weekly and monthly consultations with Saunders.

"The defendant team leaders were not properly supervised by their managers/supervisors," the suit reads.

It also said the executive director failed to communicate "the dysfunction of the aboriginal/high-risk division of the MCFD office in Kelowna to the assistant deputy minister."

The woman is looking for general damages, aggravated and punitive damages, an injunction requiring the defendants to provide financial, safety, health, therapeutic and educational supports, tracing and accounting of all funds misappropriated by Saunders.

Responses to the claim have yet to be filed. This time last year, however,  MCFD admitted to “vicarious liability” for the actions of Saunders alleged in other suits.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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