Robert Riley Saunders. (File)

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)

Court approves money for B.C. foster children alleging harm from Kelowna social worker

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000

A settlement has been approved by the courts in a class-action lawsuit brought by the alleged victims of a former Okanagan-area social worker.

The B.C. government offered the proposed settlement last July for more than 100 foster children who were alleged victims of Robert Riley Saunders.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross approved the settlement last week and lawyer Jason Gratl, who represented the foster children in the class action, released the decision on his website.

Numerous lawsuits were filed leading up to the settlement, alleging Saunders had moved them from stable homes in order to make them eligible for financial benefits from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The statements of claim alleged Saunders stole the funds deposited into their accounts, leaving the foster children homeless, subject to physical and sexual abuse and vulnerable to addiction.

The notice of settlement says each member will get a basic $25,000 payment and those who are Indigenous will get an additional $44,000.

Further damages could be paid to those who experienced homelessness, psychological harm, sexual exploitation, injury, or whose education was delayed, the settlement says.

The maximum combined total award for basic payments and elevated damages for an individual is $250,000, the agreement says.

Victims have until Oct. 23, 2022, to apply for compensation.

ALSO READ: Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Both Saunders and the Ministry of Children and Family Development were named as defendants in the lawsuits.

“The province admits that Saunders harmed children in the director’s care for whom he had responsibility in his capacity as a social worker and that the province is vicariously liable for the harm caused by Saunders,” the settlement agreement filed in July says.

“This harm includes neglect, misappropriation of funds and failure to plan for the children’s welfare and, with respect to Indigenous children, failure to take steps to preserve their cultural identities,”

Saunders has never filed a response to the lawsuit, nor could he be reached for comment.

He worked as a social worker in Kelowna from 2001 until he was fired in 2018.

The B.C. Prosecution Service says in an email statement that a report to Crown counsel was received earlier this year on possible criminal charges.

The statement says it doesn’t have a timeline for completion of the charge assessment.

READ MORE: Journalists launch ‘Spotlight: Child Welfare’ series into B.C.’s foster system

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