After reports that there was a significant backlog of child abuse and neglect cases in northeastern Pennsylvania, the director of the county’s child welfare agency was charged with falsely closing files on allegations of child abuse and neglect.
Joanne G. Van Saun, 58, of Dallas, Pennsylvania, has been charged with child endangerment and obstruction by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office for ending assessments so that the Luzerne County Department of Children and Youth Services would have less work to do. Her resignation as director of the agency was effective Friday.
An investigator said Van Saun put together a team led by three senior aides to deal with a backlog of more than 1,400 cases.
Van Saun told the three leaders she didn’t care how they got rid of the backlog. People who worked for Van Saun called her a bully and a tyrant, investigators said.
Pennsylvania officials claim that clerical workers improperly ended 200 referrals from the statewide ChildLine hotline at her direction. There was a child who came to school hungry, a child burned when a cigarette thrown out of a car window caused his or her face to burn, an adult telling children to kill themselves, and a 100-pound child still wearing a diaper.
An example of this was a child who approached someone at a high school football game and pleaded to be kidnapped, holding onto the other person’s waist.
According to the charging officer, ChildLine referrals such as those mentioned above were terminated by Luzerne Children and Youth Services secretaries who falsely noted they “did not allege abuse or neglect.”
“Van Saun directly endangered the welfare of the subject children by ordering the summary deletion of referrals,” the arrest affidavit stated.
The district court judge in Harrisburg set unsecured bail at $100,000 for Van Saun. The case will be heard in September.
The three other Luzerne Children and Youth Services employees have agreed to stay away from any position that has a mandate to report suspected child abuse until at least 2025, according to prosecutors. No charges were filed against them.
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