HARRISBURG, Pa. - Last week, Attorney General Josh Shapiro charged Luzerne County Children and Youth Administrator Joanne Van Saun for allegedly directing county employees to delete more than 200 child abuse reports in 2017.
"Right now, in Luzerne County, there's these 217 children that apparently their cases were ignored,” State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, said.
Many of those reports came through ChildLine, the state's system for reporting suspected abuse.
Toohil serves as vice chair of the House Children and Youth Committee. She says the reporting system itself isn't working properly.
Bottom line: she says it all comes down to funding and lack of trained workers who can properly identify abuse.
"That's a big part of it. The training, having doctors that are there that hear when a report comes in and are able to analyze what happened. Child abuse pediatricians are not used enough,” Toohil said.
For at least three years leading up to the pandemic, Lehigh, Northampton, and Berks counties all had the highest number of substantiated child abuse cases out of all the counties in the immediate area.
In 2018 and 2019, Lehigh had the highest number of suspected abuse reports (2018: 1,480 / 2019: 1,519).
"The data that you're looking at where suspected abuse is going up and the confirmation that there is abuse is going up, that should lead to a rise in your response, which we've been unable to do,” Toohil said.
Toohil wants to see uniformity across all 67 counties when it comes to determining what classifies as abuse, which she hopes will eliminate gray areas.
"If we haven't improved our safety net for children, then it is really putting all children in jeopardy,” Toohil said.
The number of suspected abuse cases was on the rise in recent years.
Yet, ChildLine reporting dropped off by as much as 50 percent during the pandemic.
The latest report on child abuse cases in 2020 is due out in a few weeks, but experts say it likely won't paint a complete picture since many kids were stuck with their abusers during the pandemic.