Penn State hiring faculty to advance prevention of child maltreatment

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. -- Penn State will be hiring a dozen new faculty members over the next three years as part of its recently launched Network for Child Protection and Well-Being, with the goal of advancing knowledge, practice, education and outreach to combat child abuse.

As part of its aspiration to be at the forefront of national efforts toward prevention and therapy for child maltreatment, the University has begun a "cluster" hire that will include clinical and research tenure-track faculty members who are focused on the complex and pervasive problem of child maltreatment.

"As a university dedicated to the discovery of knowledge that can address difficult social and human problems, we will hire up to 12 new faculty over the next three years to improve the chances of eradicating these wrongs against children. This academic initiative will build on Penn State's longstanding tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration and excellence in the area of children, youth and families," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "The child maltreatment field is extremely small and within that discipline, the research into child sexual abuse is even smaller. Penn State can make a significant contribution by helping to educate the next generation of researchers and clinicians about working together to address this challenging problem.”

Erickson said the goal of the new hires is to not only bring new expertise to the University, but to also spur existing faculty to think about their own research and its implications for child maltreatment. Penn State already counts among its ranks at least 400 faculty members whose research, teaching and service focus on the well-being and development of children and youth. The newly hired faculty are expected to connect with existing University researchers to draw on their expertise in areas such as prevention, research methods and statistics, neuroscience, and family dynamics to advance knowledge in child maltreatment. The work of the whole will serve as a catalyst for faculty to incorporate study of child maltreatment into their ongoing research programs.

"Researchers across Penn State can be a part of national and international efforts aimed at combating child maltreatment," said Susan McHale, director of the Children, Youth and Families Consortium (CYFC), a unit within the University’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI).

In fact, the CYFC with the 400-plus faculty members will serve as the umbrella organization, linking faculty and their collaborative activities within various units and disciplines as part of the Network for Child Protection and Well-Being. Network faculty will be focused on generating new knowledge about child abuse in all of its forms, including creating evidence-based prevention and therapy approaches.

The proposal for forming the University-wide Network was developed by the Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment. Charged by President Erickson in December 2011, the Task Force was comprised of 35 faculty members from colleges and schools across the University.

McHale, who coordinates the Network, said that Penn State has a longstanding tradition of excellence of research, teaching, clinical practice and outreach focused on children, youth and families. The Network is designed to build on the strengths of four Centers of Excellence in Children, Youth and Families at Penn State: The Child Study Center in the College of the Liberal Arts; The Center for the Protection of Children in the College of Medicine; The Prevention Research Center in the College of Health and Human Development; and the Center for Children and the Law at the Dickinson School of Law. Faculty members who join Penn State as part of the Network cluster hire will be affiliated with one or more of these centers.

"Penn State has a solid foundation of research and practice in child behavior, health and development. But to advance Penn State's capacity we need more researchers and clinicians whose primary focus is on child maltreatment, " said Benjamin Levi, director of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children, a part of Penn State Hershey's Children's Hospital.

"We are in an excellent position to build upon Penn State's existing faculty expertise for how to intervene with parents at risk for mistreating their children; identifying protective factors that reduce the risk of child abuse; and developing and implementing sustainable, evidence-based strategies for detection, diagnosis, prevention and therapy for children who have suffered maltreatment," Levi said. A professor of pediatrics and humanities at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine. Levi became director of the Center for the Protection of Children in August.

Network coordinator McHale said possible growth opportunities within the Network include fellowships in child abuse; educational opportunities for Penn State students, including new courses and programs of study, as well as internships; and the ability through clinical work and outreach to put new knowledge to work in community settings.

"We will work hard to make all of our efforts useful to community members and institutions," McHale said. "Our research and practices must be informed by community needs and by community partners if we are ever going to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children."

More information on the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being can be found at http://www.ssri.psu.edu/thenetwork online.

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Last Updated April 18, 2013