A former Kelowna social worker facing several criminal charges for stealing from foster children is facing another class-action lawsuit.
The claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court last week, alleges Robert Riley Saunders failed to inform Zackary Alphonse, an Indigenous person who was placed in provincial custody as a child, of resources available to him upon his leaving the system. As a result, Alphonse says Saunders and the Ministry of Children and Family Development, as well as another unnamed social worker, are responsible for Alphonse’s depression and eventual one-month of homelessness after leaving care.
Alphonse claims he was not notified of the Young Adults Program, meant to ease the transition from the care system to adult life, until almost a decade after ageing out of care. The ministry sent him a letter in June 2020 stating he may qualify for certain services, but after a phone call with a ministry representative, he was told he was too old.
When he left the system at 19-years-old, Alphonse “had only completed to Grade 9 of his secondary schooling, and without financial support, he could not afford to work on his graduate equivalency degree,” reads the civil claim. “For a period of approximately one year, (Alphonse) could see no future for himself, felt hopeless and became depressed and unable to advance his interests.”
Alphonse managed to stabilize his working life over the next eight years, eventually returning to school for an online high school equivalency and a computer repair certification. Now at age 29, he has nearly completed his GED, but the suit claims he would’ve been able to begin his adult education much sooner if he had been informed of the program.
The claim also states the ministry’s failure to inform Alphonse of the program “has a discriminatory effect on Indigenous persons who have aged out of care, which manifests in lower rates of program uptake for Indigenous persons and lower levels of educational attainment for Indigenous persons.”
Alphonse is seeking reparations for several damages including the future cost of his education.
None of the claims made in the suit have been tested in court.
If approved by the courts as a class-action lawsuit, all who were in the ministry’s care and not informed of the program could be eligible for compensation.
Saunders is currently out on bail while facing 13 criminal charges alleging he defrauded and stole from children in his care; however, a previously settled class-action lawsuit — which also named him and the ministry — awarded funds to more than 100 people who were in Saunders’ care, many of whom were Indigenous. Up to $15 million could be handed out as part of that settlement.
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