The former head of a northeastern Pennsylvania County welfare agency pleaded guilty Thursday to endangering children by covering up abuse allegations to clear a backlog of cases.
Joanne Van Saun, who resigned as director of the Luzerne County Department of Children and Youth Services after her arrest in July, pleaded guilty before a Harrisburg County judge for endangering property -being children and two heads of hindrance. The penalty is fixed for the month of December.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office pursued the case, said in a statement that Van Saun “turned a blind eye to child abuse and neglect, violating the law and his duty to protect the most vulnerable.” His attorney, Patrick A. Casey, declined to comment.
Van Saun, 58, has been accused of setting up a team led by three senior assistants to deal with a backlog of nearly 1,400 cases after it was made public by the citizens of Wilkes-Barre he four years ago. She told them that she wanted the backlog cleared and that she didn’t care how the police alleged it in the affidavit of arrest.
Shapiro said the backlog represented three-quarters of the state’s total at that time.
Investigators said people who worked under Van Saun described her as a bully and a tyrant.
The case concerns dismissals from the state ChildLine hotline that were inappropriately interrupted by office workers under his direction in May 2017. They included reports of children who came to school starving, a child burned in the face when his mother threw a cigarette out of a car window. , an adult telling children to kill themselves, and a 100 pound (45 kilogram) child still using a diaper.
Prosecutors said three other former agency employees involved in the suppression of the cases had agreed not to occupy a position where they would be mandated to report suspected child abuse cases until at least 2025. They did not. have not been charged.