News & Politics

PA Children and Youth Services Director Arrested After Throwing Backlogged Child Abuse Reports in the Trash

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This report is part of an investigative series looking into reported corruption in family courts and the judiciary. For the rest of the investigation visit the catalog here.

Joanne Van Saun, the former director of the Luzerne County, Pa., Children and Youth Services was slapped into handcuffs over an alleged coverup that involved an extensive backlog of child abuse reports in her office, with reports being tossed in the trash instead of investigated. The Attorney General’s office of Pennsylvania released a statement about the arrest.

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.”

Shapiro’s statement further states that over 200 cases of reported abuse were closed without investigations on the order of Van Saun. As a result, police charged Van Saun with a misdemeanor. According to the police documents,  “Van Saun told [employees] she wanted the backlog eradicated immediately, and she did not care how they did it.”

 

Some of the allegations of abuse that went uninvestigated were shocking and included witness statements describing the sodomy of a child, children living in unsafe conditions, and one incident where a child grabbed a stranger at a football game and begged him to kidnap him so he would not have to go home. Those reports, along with hundreds of others, went nowhere, thanks to Van Saun’s leadership.

Pennsylvania has been stepping up in confronting official corruption. A Pennsylvania judiciary disciplinary committee recently held a trial and disciplined Judge Lyris Younge for violating the constitutional rights of parents in her court. While Younge is still allowed to be a judge, disciplining a judge is rare. In fact, the attorney general of Missouri, Eric Schmidt, has been approached about similar cases where child welfare officials have made credible allegations of abuse disappear. His office has been recorded telling parents that it’s not the attorney general’s job to do anything about it. People who report abuse in Missouri find that nothing happens and they have no one to turn to.

Congratulations to Attorney General Josh Shapiro for doing the bare minimum and trying to take responsibility for the public officials in his state. Though a misdemeanor is hardly a goal any prosecutor should shoot for when the charges are this serious, it’s better than nothing. We’re at the point where “better than nothing” is the best Americans seeking justice can hope for.