Woman formerly in care of ministry says she was left homeless while social worker allegedly pocketed funds

A woman formerly in the care of a B.C. social worker who allegedly pocketed funds meant for vulnerable Indigenous youth said she feels "disgusted and angry" to learn of the allegations.

5 youth have now filed actions in B.C. Supreme Court against Robert Riley Saunders

Robert Riley Saunders is being sued as part of a proposed class action lawsuit which claims the social worker stole money from vulnerable First Nations teens. (Facebook)

A young woman formerly in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development says she feels "disgusted and angry" that a B.C. social worker accused of exploiting vulnerable Indigenous youth may have been pocketing funds meant for her while she lived on the streets.

Last week, the 21-year-old, along with two other women, filed actions against Robert Riley Saunders in B.C. Supreme Court for alleged emotional and psychological abuse, bringing the total cases against him to five.

Two of the girls claim Saunders opened joint bank accounts with them and then siphoned off funds for his own benefit.

All three claim they went homeless and hungry as a result of the alleged psychological and emotional abuse, with exposure to methamphetamine, crack and cocaine. One of the girls claims she was sexually exploited as a result of Saunders' actions.

The woman, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CBC News when she raised concerns about the foster home she had been placed in, he shrugged them off and refused to fill out the necessary paperwork.

Saunders eventually moved her to an independent living situation, taking her to Interior Savings to open a bank account, where he said the ministry would deposit money on a monthly basis, so she could support herself financially.

Homeless and 'terrified'

But she says within a month, she was asked to leave and ended up in a homeless shelter. She says at her lowest point she lived for about six months by a creek in a hut she built out of sticks.

"That was probably one of the darkest times in my entire life. It was extremely terrifying," she said. "While living on the streets I did have a cellphone. [Saunders] did have my cellphone number, and there [were] no texts, no calls, no emails, nothing at all."

The makeshift shelter where the young woman says she lived for about six months homeless and 'terrified.' (CBC)

She said she was eventually able to get off the streets, but it took her years to recover emotionally.

"It took a very long time for me to start trusting people again, because he was the one person who was supposed to be there for me," she said.

 It was only recently that she learned Saunders had allegedly been pocketing thousands of dollars meant for her.

"I was shocked. It was extremely hard for me to believe that it was looked over," she said. "It's a really gross feeling knowing that it happened for so long to so many of us."

RCMP also investigating 

Neither Saunders nor the Ministry of Children and Family Development has responded to any of the claims. 

B.C.'s representative for children and youth is also investigating the allegations and says she has opened files in relation to 14 youth.

RCMP have also confirmed an ongoing investigation into the allegations and say they have identified several alleged victims.

No charges have been filed and none of the allegations have been proven in court.

With files from Brady Strachan and Jason Proctor

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC Vancouver. She previously reported in Lebanon and Chile.