LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE 28/WYOU 22 EYEWITNESS NEWS) — Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced today that Joanne Van Saun, former Director of Luzerne County children and youth services is charged with endangering the welfare of children and obstruction in child abuse cases.
We reached out to van saun’s attorney for a statement and are awaiting his response.
Investigators say, Joanne Van Saun, director of the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, ordered employees to terminate at least 217 reports of child abuse and neglect received from the state ChildLine system.
The cases were part of a backlog that was initially reported in May of 2017. At the time, Luzerne County had 1,388 outstanding referrals.
According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro: instead of investigating the claims, Van Saun and her employees lied to make them go away.
In a statement, Shapiro said, “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.”
One woman who was protesting outside the Luzerne County courthouse Tuesday says she’s been in a years-long battle with children and youth. She believes the charges confirm her suspicions.
“My opinion is they went after children that would be hard to adopt, or hard to foster and got rid of those cases– get them out of the way. My grandchildren had a family that wanted them,” said Elizabeth Hartman who was protesting outside the courthouse.
Court papers state Van Saun had her staff terminate referrals by falsely saying they “did not allege abuse or neglect.”
According to the Attorney General, many of those referrals described severe child abuse and neglect, including lice-ridden children telling mandated reporters they were not being fed at home, children living in unsafe homes riddled with mice and dog feces, and children being sexually and physically abused.
“I think the overall issue to me is everything that happens behind closed doors, whether it be the choice of what to investigate or the choice of whose children are being taken away,” stated Joesph Borland.
Borland practices family law in Luzerne County and says the charges against van saun were shocking, but not necessarily surprising. He thinks it requires further investigation and possible reform.
“Its fundamental goal is to help the children of Luzerne County. If we know that’s not happening we have to find out why and what we can do to improve it,” said Borland.
Eyewitness News reached out to Van Saun’s attorney for a statement and is awaiting his response.