Social worker accused of stealing thousands from kids in care appears by phone in Kelowna court 

Youth wants “survivors centred” in media coverage, as Robert Riley Saunders’ criminal case begins.

social worker

Former social worker Robert Riley Saunders made his first court appearance via phone Thursday in a case that has rocked B.C.’s child welfare system.

Saunders stands accused of stealing basic living allowances from more than 100 — mostly Indigenous — youth who were in his care while he was employed as a social worker by the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Kelowna, between 1996 and 2018.

On Dec. 4, the RCMP reported that Saunders had been arrested in Alberta. He was expected to be transported from Alberta to Kelowna to face the court this week, but after a “COVID related issue,” his transport was delayed. Instead, he participated in yesterday’s hearing by phone.

Saunders faces 13 criminal charges, “including ten counts of fraud over $5,000, one count of theft over $5,000, one count of breach of trust, and one count of uttering a forged document,” according to a media release from the Kelowna RCMP.

Earlier this year in a separate legal matter, the Ministry of Children and Family Development settled a class action lawsuit, which alleged that “Saunders defrauded many children in the care of the Ministry of their food, clothing and shelter allowances, leaving many of them destitute and homeless.”

According to a report by Global News, yesterday the court heard that Saunders is expected to quarantine until Dec. 22, but IndigiNews hasn’t been able to independently verify this. According to an email from the BC Prosecution Service, “efforts are being made to address bail issues” and “those issues will be spoken to on December 18, 2020 in Kelowna Provincial court.”

His bail hearing is scheduled for Dec. 31.

In response to a call out asking how IndigiNews can report on this trial in a good way, we heard from a youth who says she was once in Saunders’ care.

Aden Withers says she wants to see more coverage centred around the survivors.

“Everyone has asked lawyers and everyone has asked professionals, but nobody has asked survivors,” says Withers.

“I would like audiences to know the pain we survivors feel, and how this payout won’t heal the time and hurt he has caused.”

IndigiNews wants to centre survivors in our coverage of this case in a safe and good way. If you have a personal connection to this case and would like to discuss sharing your story please email: [email protected]

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