Social worker victim talks

November 26, 2018

A Kelowna woman was just 15 when she started under the care of social worker Robert Riley Saunders – and is now speaking out with disturbing details of the experience.

The woman, now 21, alleges Saunders not only stole $40,000 from her, but his actions caused her to be homeless and sexually exploited.

“He should have been there for us. He should have supported us and cared for us. And what he should have done as a social worker he should have done, and it is just disgusting that he did the exact opposite of it,” she said.

She first met Saunders when she was transferred from a foster home in Williams Lake to a home in Kelowna.

“Slowly, I learned he didn’t care about me,” she said. “We never really had a good relationship. He made me feel that my voice didn’t matter, no one would listen to me, no one would care, no one would believe me.”

When she told him of her difficulty in a foster home, he “shrugged it off” and told her “to stop complaining.”

Once she was switched into an independent living situation, she said Saunders brought her to Interior Savings and opened a bank account with her.

“What was explained to me was that we were opening a bank account that was between myself and the ministry, and every month the ministry would be depositing money into the account for me to pay my rent, buy groceries,” she said.

But after less than a month, he told her she needed to move out of the home.

“I assumed the bank account would have been closed and money wouldn’t have been deposited into it anymore, but I was wrong about that.”

She claims she never received any money and she became homeless.

“I was put into one of the homeless shelters… While living at the shelter, I was sexually exploited. I got into very hard drugs to cope with the way I was feeling with the events going on in my life.”

After a while, she left and built a shelter for herself out of sticks at Ethel Creek.

“He didn’t care. I wasn’t worth his time,” she said.

A trio of civil lawsuits were recently filed in Kelowna against Saunders by three women who were previously youth in his care. Two of them allege theft of money from a joint bank account, and the third alleges negligence as a social worker.

The claims are similar to a pair of lawsuits earlier this month that rocked the Ministry of Children and Family.

The ministry said Saunders is no longer an employee with the BC Public Service. Saunders is employed at Okanagan College in adult special education in a contract term position and is currently on leave.

Lawyer Michael Patterson is working with five people who were under the care of Saunders, and he believes there could be more than 50 victims.

“He should be extremely ashamed of himself for using so many children for his own advantage,” said the Kelowna woman, who was moving into a new home on Sunday.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. When called by Castanet, Saunders said ‘sorry’ and hung up.