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Social worker may have taken $500K from vulnerable kids, lawyer says
Four new civil lawsuits were filed in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday in connection with disturbing allegations that a social worker took money from vulnerable children in government care.
In one of the new cases, a teen alleges he was sent to live in Ontario with his dad. The filings state that when the boy told the social worker about his concerns, they fell on deaf ears. While the foster child lived in Ontario, it’s alleged the social worker then took funds out of a joint account and funneled them into his personal account. That child says he ended up homeless and taking hard drugs.
Another lawsuit alleges a teen was kicked out of his rental suite after the social worker lied about paying rent. That teen too, says he ended up homeless and taking hard drugs.
CTV News has agreed not to name the plaintiffs because they are underage.
At the same time, B.C.'s representative for children and youth says up to 45 kids may be affected and there may be “significantly more” given the length of time the social worker was employed.
Jennifer Charlesworth calls the case “disturbing” and says her office is advocating for many of those kids. She says many of the children are being advocated for through her office and are disturbed because of the way they were treated. The watchdog can’t investigate until after a police investigation concludes.
No criminal charges have been laid. None of the allegations has been tested in court.
“Of course it’s very troubling because when children are in care of the state, we should be ensuring and doing (our) utmost to make sure their experience is as supportive and as positive as it can be,” said Charlesworth, adding that many of the kids are Indigenous and vulnerable and an experience like this can add another layer of trauma to what they’re already experiencing.
The total number of lawsuits is now 10, including one class-action. All name Robert Riley Saunders as the social worker, and say the Ministry of Children and Family Development, some staffers and a credit union are also partially to blame.
CTV News has reached out to Saunders for comment but hasn’t heard back. Saunders who had his employment “terminated” in May of 2018 has not responded to any of the civil claims.
Months ago, the ministry conceded it was responsible for Saunders’ actions in one case. It appears the ministry could be on the hook for damages in that case. MCFD also conducted a financial review and staff are supporting the affected teens.
A lawyer for at least five of the young adults says he thinks the case will only get bigger.
“We're going back at least a decade the amount of money stolen by Mr. Saunders from these vulnerable children is approximately $400,000 to $500,000,” Jason Gratl told CTV News on Wednesday. “The damage done to these children though - rendered homeless sometimes sexually exploited at a point of great vulnerability in their lives - will be a great deal more than that.”
Late in 2018, a youth CTV agreed not to identify said she faced a similar situation.
“When I was homeless I was sexually exploited I got into hard drugs to cope with what I was going through," she said, adding that she had opened a joint account with Saunders but didn’t see the money that was meant to help her.
Gratl says he expects to file more cases on behalf of his clients in the coming week.