Former Luzerne County Children & Youth Services director accused of ordering the termination of abuse reports

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LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — The former director of Luzerne County Children & Youth Services has been charged with directing employees to falsely terminate reports of child abuse and neglect, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

According to court records, Joanne Van Saun, 58, of Dallas, is accused of having staff at Luzerne County Children & Youth Services delete at least 217 reports of abuse or neglect that were received by the state’s ChildLine system.

These cases were part of a backlog that was initially reported in May of 2017.

At the time, Luzerne County had 1,388 outstanding referrals, which according to the attorney generals office, was about 75 percent of the referrals in the entire Commonwealth.

“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, the attorney general’s office wrote in a press release.

ChildLine is part of a mandated statewide service program to protect children in Pennsylvania. ChildLine receives reports of child abuse and neglect which are then given to an appropriate agency to investigate, usually at the county level.

Shapiro says Van Saun directed her employees to “screen out”, or eradicate the the backlog of reports instead of investigating the claims.

“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.”

In addition to the arrest of Van Saun, three other county employees of LCCYS have agreed not to serve in any position that they would be considered a “mandated reporter” of child abuse.

Van Saun is charged with endangering the welfare of a child and obstruction in child abuse cases.

Reports of child abuse should be sent to OAG Safe2Say Something (844) 723-2729 or the PA ChildLine 1-800-932-0313.

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