HARRISBURG—Attorney General Josh Shapiro today announced that the former director of Luzerne County’s Children and Youth Services has been charged for directing employees to falsely terminate reports of child abuse and neglect, putting dozens of children in Luzerne County at risk. She has since resigned from her position.
“Children that reported serious abuse and neglect were let down by Luzerne County because of Ms. Van Saun’s intentional and reckless disregard. These young people turned to teachers, coaches and other mandated reporters, who trusted that Child and Youth Services would do their job – they didn’t,” said AG Shapiro. “My office will continue to do our part in keeping children here in Luzerne County and across the Commonwealth safe, to guarantee that if you call the Pennsylvania ChildLine, your report will be taken seriously. We will prosecute anyone who fails in their responsibilities and knowingly puts our young people at risk.”
Investigators learned that in May 2017, Joanne Van Saun, 58, director of the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (LCCYS), directed employees to terminate at least 217 reports of child abuse and neglect received from the state ChildLine system. These cases were part of a backlog that was initially reported by the press in May 2017. Luzerne County had 1,388 outstanding referrals, which accounted for seventy-five percent of the Commonwealth’s outstanding ChildLine referrals. Under pressure from the reports of huge numbers of Childline reports in backlog status, Van Saun came up with a plan to eliminate the backlog without doing any investigation into whether any of the reports required further action to protect the children.
ChildLine is part of a mandated statewide child protective services program. It is designed to receive reports of child abuse and well-being concerns, which are then transmitted to an appropriate agency for investigation, typically county-level Children and Youth Services agencies.
Van Saun’s account of the status of these reports was not true. Instead of taking the proper time to evaluate or investigate each Childline referral, she directed her employees to eradicate the backlog (known as a “screen out”). 217 screen outs were submitted in May 2017 by LCCYS secretaries who had no legal authority or proper training to make that decision.
Many of those screened out referrals described severe child abuse and neglect, including lice-ridden children telling mandated reporters that they were not fed at home; children living in unsafe, mice and dog feces-ridden homes; and a child found at a high school football game, clinging to the mandated reporter, who screamed “please kidnap me, I don’t want to go home.” Instead of looking into these reports, all of these ChildLine referrals were terminated by an LCCYS secretary who used the false screen-out reason that the “referral did not allege abuse or neglect.”
In addition to the arrest of Van Saun, three former staff members from LCCYS have agreed not to serve in any position where they would be a “mandated reporter” as defined in the Child Protective Services Law, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §6311(a) until at least 2025.
Reports of child abuse should be sent to OAG Safe2Say Something (844) 723-2729 or the PA ChildLine 1-800-932-0313.
Van Saun is charged with Endangering the Welfare of Children and Obstruction in Child Abuse Cases. This case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Barney Anderson.
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