Former child in care sues ministry, social worker for ‘reprehensible’ treatment

Former child in care sues ministry, social worker for 'reprehensible' treatment

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia government and a former social worker in Kelowna, B.C., are facing a new civil lawsuit by a former child in care who accuses the social worker of stealing her money to pay off his mortgage and other personal expenses.

The allegation is just one of a string of accusations in the legal action by the one-time foster child, who details a series of failures by the authorities charged with her care, forcing her into homelessness and exposing her to sexual exploitation.

The woman, who is now 19 and living in Vancouver, cannot be named as a former child in care.

Documents filed with the B.C. Supreme Court on Dec. 20 allege she was apprehended from her mother at age three, placed in a series of unsafe and abusive homes and then had her own two children apprehended.

The statement of claim says the failure of the social worker, Robert Riley Saunders, and other provincial officials to respond to the risks and harms she faced in a timely way was “reprehensible and outrageous.”

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Saunders could not be reached for comment and the Ministry declined to comment as the matter is before the court.

However, the Ministry pointed to a statement it issued in December 2018 in response to a separate court action filed on behalf of a different, unnamed, plaintiff that accused Saunders of siphoning off thousands of dollars in financial benefits from children in care.

In that statement, the Ministry admitted “vicarious liability” and said it had offered services and supports, including counselling, to Saunders’ clients. 

The 2018 statement says there are a number of separate but related court actions underway. 

The young woman’s lawsuit filed this month also alleges she is one among many victims.

“Saunders engaged in the same or similar unlawful and inexcusable activities in respect to dozens of other children in his care, most of whom were Indigenous,” the lawsuit says.

The allegations against the government contained in the notice of civil claim, include that the girl was placed with a family for five months, whom she alleges used violence and excessive force against her and exposed her to alcohol and to another child who was known by the family and by Ministry staff to have a pattern of sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Although provincial authorities discovered the girl was being abused in August 2003, they failed to transfer her out of the foster family’s custody until December of that year, “thereby prolonging and exacerbating the abuse,” the lawsuit alleges.

The documents say she was then placed in custody with her biological father for 12 years, even though he had a criminal history of domestic violence, and he also violently abused her.

The province failed to assess his fitness as a parent, including a criminal record check, the lawsuit alleges.

“The abuse was actually known or ought to have been known” to the province by January 2013, but she wasn’t removed until two years later, and was not assigned a foster home, so she became homeless, the legal action says.

When she was placed with new foster parents who had “severe and chronic substance use disorders,” she reported them and asked for help leaving the home, but the Ministry failed to act, the lawsuit says.

She ran away and when she asked for funds for food and shelter, and an independent living arrangement, the social workers assigned to her “accused her of being greedy, self-serving and manipulative,” the suit says.

After giving birth to her first child of two, the baby boy was apprehended and placed with the same foster family she had fled, she alleges.

When Saunders was assigned as her social worker in 2016, he verbally abused her and told her she was not his problem and there was nothing he could or should do for her, the statement of claim says.

He opened a joint bank account on the pretext that he would use it to provide her funds, the document say. Instead, the documents allege, he deposited cheques in her name intended to provide her with food, clothing and shelter, then transferred the funds to his own account to pay for trips, vehicles and his own mortgage.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 30, 2019.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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