The former director of a Pennsylvania county children and youth services office has been charged with multiple crimes after she allegedly manipulated her computer system in order to rid it of complaints of child neglect and abuse in order to ease her workload.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office said in a media release on Tuesday that Joanne Van Saun, 58, put children in danger through callous actions that endangered kids. The woman was for a time the director of the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services.
The attorney general’s office said that in 2017, Van Saun ordered her employees to “falsely terminate reports of child abuse and neglect, putting dozens of children in Luzerne County 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.”
ChildLine is the state system for reporting cases of suspected child endangerment, abuse or neglect.
“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,” the state alleged in the media release.
Van Saun has been charged with endangering the welfare of a child and obstruction in child abuse cases.
It is not clear when she resigned from her job, but former employees described her as being a bully and a tyrant, the Scioto County Daily News reported.
A criminal complaint against the woman said she and other senior-level employees at the Luzerne County Children and Youth Services tricked other employees into closing complaint cases in their computer system by asking them to label some abuse or neglect referrals as having been investigated.
In fact, those cases had not been investigated and the updates which were ordered to the affected referral cases essentially closed each case. This was in some cases, according to the state, done to trick the low-level employee.
In other cases, per the legal complaint, low-level employees had concerns about what they were asked to do but were afraid to speak up for fear of retribution.
The state said some cases of suspected child abuse or neglect which were closed without an investigation included a number of referrals to the child abuse and neglect hotline from 2016.
Those referrals involved one call where a child who was reported to be living in squalor and hungry, while another call came from someone who reported a child was constantly in dirty diapers. One call came in after a concerned adult reported a teen they knew said they would rather be “kidnapped” than go home after a high school football game.
The state said there were hundreds of other similar call referrals that were closed without any investigation. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Van Saun is responsible for the potential harm of all of those children.
“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,” Shapiro said in a statement.
“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,” the AG added.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.