Robert Riley Saunders. —Image: Facebook

Robert Riley Saunders. —Image: Facebook

3 more Indigenous youth sue B.C. social worker for exploitation

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of taking money from youths in his care

Three more civil suits have been filed against a Kelowna social worker accused of stealing from Aboriginal children who were in his care when he worked for the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The civil suits, filed against Robert Riley Saunders in Kelowna earlier this week, are in addition to a pair of similar civil suits filed against him earlier this month.

Saunders no longer works for the ministry or as a social worker. He now works under contract at Okanagan College in Kelowna in adult special education.

The three new lawsuits allege Saunders took money from joint bank accounts he set up with the youths, some of whom are now adults, when they were in his care as a ministry employee.

RELATED: Lawsuits allege B.C. government social worker stole from foster children

In addition to Saunders, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and his direct supervisor at the time, Siobhan Stymes, a team leader with the ministry, are also named in the new lawsuits.

The suits state Stymes had “direct knowledge of the theft of monies from the plaintiff and had direct knowledge of the emotional and psychological abuse inflicted on the plaintiff by Robert Riley Saunders.”

In addition to alleging Saunders took money from the joint accounts, the lawsuits claim he was “verbally and emotionally abusive” to the three plaintiffs while he worked with them and “succeeded in undermining their self-confidence and self esteem.”

They also claim he undermined their belief that they might be entitled to any form of financial support from the state for their “subsistence level of material well-being, such as food, clothing and shelter.”

The plaintiffs claim they were exposed to periods without food, street homelessness and illicit drug use, using drugs such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine, as a result of Saunders’ and Stymes’ actions. One plaintiff also claimed she was sexually exploited as a result their actions.

Following news of the first civil suits filed against Saunders, B.C.’s Representative of Children and Youth said 14 files had been opened by her office investigating the allegations.

RELATED: Ministry of Children and Family Development issues comment on Kelowna social worker accused of ripping off youth in care

According to the ministry, financial irregularities were brought to its attention in December 2017 and it sent the issue to the office of the comptroller general. In January 2018, the ministry said steps were taken to ensure “the immediate safety and well-being of the children and youth and their families.”

The same month, B.C.’s comptroller general launched an investigation to determine if fraud had been committed and the ministry hired a financial consultant to review the case and suggest changes financial and internal controls. Changes have now been made, it said.

Ministry staff are no longer able to initiate or print cheques without the involvement of a second staff member and the ministry plans to launch a separate review of its contracting and payment process.

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