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Unregistered social workers should not be allowed, says governing body

After a fraudulent social worker was caught stealing, the association is calling for regulations
Protesters gather outside the Kelowna Court House during the sentencing of fraudulent social worker Robert Riley Saunders. (Jacqueline Gelineau)

Some social workers in B.C. are currently unregistered, and the B.C. Association of Social Workers is urging the public to speak up in favour of strict regulations to prevent fraudulent social workers from preying on vulnerable people.

In 2018, a fake social worker who had slipped through the regulatory cracks in the system for over a decade, was caught stealing money that was intended for the youth in his care while denying the teens access to helpful resources.

President of the B.C. Association of Social Workers Michael Crawford said that if the proper regulations were in place and all social workers were required to register with the college, disgraced social worker Robert Riley Saunders would never have been allowed to work.

“Saunders deprived youth of the resources they needed to succeed in life.”

While working with the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) under a forged degree, Saunders stole over $460,000 until he was eventually caught by a co-worker.

READ MORE: Kelowna fraudulent social worker used ministry to misappropriate funds: Court

In B.C., the MCFD oversees social workers with the Social Workers Act. The Act states that those working under the title of social worker must be registered with the British Columbia College of Social Work, which requires a standard of education, a background check, a competency exam and continued professional development.

However, the act exempts all social workers employed by Provincial and Federal governments, municipalities, regional districts or boards of education, First Nations groups, MCFD and Indigenous Child and Family Services Agencies (ICFSAs), and those who teach or engage in research as social workers from having to register with the College of Social Work. .

Crawford said that he has no idea how many unregistered social workers are working in the province.

He explained that having a mandatory regulatory college in place, like they do for nurses (B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives), doctors (B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons) and other healthcare professions creates a standard professionalism and enforces discipline when complaints are lodged.

Without a central regulatory college, the accused can leave their place of work and start fresh at a new job as a social worker, with no lasting repercussions or paper trail, as there is for people registered with the college.

The Government of B.C. is currently launching a social work oversight public engagement survey to hear the opinions of the community and stakeholders.

To voice your opinion on social work oversight with the B.C. College of Social Workers you can fill out the online MCFD survey, or send a written submission to the Ministry by Jan. 13.


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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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