This column was submitted to LebTown. Read our submission policy here.

In the wake of the horrific reports and details surrounding the child abuse charges filed against Stephanie and Robert Duncan, there have been claims made in the media that Lebanon County Children and Youth Services (CYS) ignored specific calls from neighbors who reported certain activities at the Duncan residence over the last several years. With that, there have also been accusations that the County Commissioners are ignoring these claims. While the allegations are still under intense investigation by the District Attorney, we are issuing this statement to attempt to address some claims while being cautious about the need for protecting the integrity of the case. During this time, CYS employees and others are expected to maintain confidentially and cooperate with law enforcement, often resulting in their inability to comment or share information about the case. 

First, protecting children and investigating claims of child abuse is one of the most important responsibilities of counties in Pennsylvania. We, as Commissioners, along with our Children and Youth staff, take that responsibility very seriously.

Secondly, we have spent the last week, and will continue, cooperating with the District Attorney’s Office on any claims of contact made to Children and Youth. In 2019, dispatch records indicate there was a call made to a local police department characterized as a “neighbor complaint”, however, the CYS agency was not part of that call nor is there information on the specifics of the complaint. There is additional follow-up being done but, as it stands, we have not found that the CYS agency has ignored calls. It is important to note that calls made to the state’s Childline hotline (1-800-932-0313) with tips on child abuse is the best avenue for reporting information. Every report is disseminated to the appropriate agency for a follow-up. 

Third, there seems to be a blurred line between adoptions and foster parenting. Adoptions can be initiated by CYS agencies and by private organizations. Both must do exhaustive background checks and obtain court approval. Once an adoption is granted, there is no follow-up required, unless specified by the court. An adoptive family is viewed the same as a biological family. Foster families, however, care for children placed outside of their biological family, typically monitored by CYS until the child can be returned to the family or, in some cases, adopted. 

Lastly, this case emphasizes the need for every citizen to be part of protecting children, especially in times of isolation like we’re experiencing right now. Be aware of the signs if something seems off or unusual, report it by telephone to Childline (1-800-932-0313). This insures that the tip will be directed to the right place for follow-up.