Kelowna social employee scandal prompts name for regulation in B.C. | iNFOnews

Robert Riley Saunders.

Image Credit: Global Okanagan (with permission)

January 05, 2023 – 7:00 AM

Robert Riley Saunders shone a spotlight on social work in B.C. like no one else before him – for all the wrong reasons.

That’s why the B.C. Association of Social Workers is calling on the provincial government to require all social workers in B.C. to register with the B.C. College of Social Workers so they can be held accountable.

Over a six-and-a-half year period while in Kelowna, Saunders defrauded his vulnerable clients of almost $500,000 in payments they needed for living expenses. He faked his credentials in order to get his job in the first place.

In July 2022, he was sentenced to five years in prison for his crimes.

READ MORE: Disgraced Kelowna social worker gets five years jail

Last fall, the Okanagan Nation Alliance called for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the fraud, along with a comprehensive review of the ministry to “ensure undetected internal Ministry of Children and Family Development fraud does not continue to harm children and youth.”

READ MORE: Okanagan Nation Alliance calls for inquiry following Saunders conviction

On Dec. 1, 2022, the Ministry of Children and Family Development launched what it calls a review of the way social workers are regulated, although it did not say it was triggered by the Saunders scandal.

“We think the consultation was launched as a result of Robert Riley Saunders and the exposure that gave the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” B.C. Association of Social Workers president Michael Crawford told iNFOnews.ca.

At the core of the issue is that, while 5,500 social workers in B.C. are registered with the B.C. College of Social Workers, there is an extensive list of exemptions, including those employed by the provincial, federal or local governments, school boards and First Nations as well as those who teach or engage in research as social workers.

“When the Social Workers Act was created, it was given to the Ministry of Children and Family Development to oversee,” Crawford said. “From the very beginning, they’ve maintained an exemption for themselves, and for other people, so you have the rather bizarre situation of a minister administrating an act designed to create a college to protect the public and she exempts her own staff from it and maintains that exemption.”

The only group that was cut from the list of exemptions were those social workers who are employed by local health authorities, he said. That was in 2019.

If all social workers had been required to register with the B.C. College of Social Workers, Saunders would never have been hired and would never have had the opportunity to defraud dozens of children in his care, Crawford said, because he faked his credentials in order to get the job.

Since then, because the Ministry has so much difficulty with recruitment and retention of staff, it has lowered the educational requirements so someone with no social work training can now be hired as a social worker, Crawford said.

He has no idea how many unqualified social workers are employed by the Ministry but suspects the number is increasing because of the lower qualification standards.

While the review of the oversight process is being conducted by the Ministry, despite Crawford’s objections, he has some confidence that changes will be made. That’s because the Minster, Mitzi Dean, has a background in social work and understands the need for regulation better than previous ministers, he said.

The association has developed a letter writing tool that not only will send submissions to the Ministry but to the writers’ MLA as well. That tool is available here.

The Ministry’s online survey can be taken here.

Interested people can also send in written submissions, here.

Time is limited as the deadline for input is 4 p.m. on Jan. 13.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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