Penn State trains employees to 'Build a Safe Community for Children'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State is focused on developing a sustainable professional training program for its employees to recognize and report child abuse. The program will be broken into two phases, one that will begin April 18, in a face-to-face format to meet immediate needs for summer programs and the other, an online interactive training, to be launched in the fall.

“There is an immediate need to train employees who will be responsible for children this summer at numerous camps and summer offerings, so we're quickly moving forward,” said Susan Cromwell, director of Workplace Learning and Performance in the Office of Human Resources at Penn State.

To put the training in place, Cromwell has been working with a team that includes employees from Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR), WPSU Learning & Media Design Team, University Police, Student Affairs, Centre County Women’s Resource Center, faculty experts and professionals throughout the community. The group also is working to design an online training module for all employees to take in the fall.

“With the current curriculum and resources available through the Penn State/PCAR partnership and some modifications, training will be offered face-to-face to the program staff until the online program is developed for the fall. The team has identified colleges and administrative units that currently have requested immediate training and will address this most pressing need. Once the online training is developed, it will replace the face-to-face training.”

The first phase of training begins by identifying mandated reporters across the University and then providing them with instruction, Cromwell said. According to Pennsylvania law, a mandated reporter must file a report of abuse when that person, “who in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into direct contact with children and has reasonable cause to suspect on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience that there is a victim of child abuse."

The online program that is under development also will target mandated reporters but, in order to build a safer community for children, Cromwell said it is important that even those considered permissive reporters -- Penn State employees not mandated by law to report abuse -- participate by completing the online module. The training is expected to teach employees how to recognize abuse and report it to the appropriate sources, even if not directed by law to do so.

"Our ultimate goal is to create by the fall an online interactive program for all employees," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "It's our belief that anyone at Penn State, not just those who work directly with children, should understand the law and its requirements, should be able to identify signs of abuse and should know exactly who to call and how to report. Protecting children is everyone's responsibility."

Cromwell said there are other initiatives in the works involving substantial changes to Penn State's policies dealing with minors on campus, a more stringent background check for employees, and strengthening of other procedures to increase the safety and security of children. A number of these actions are a result of preliminary recommendations made by Louis Freeh, a former FBI director and federal judge who is leading the University's independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding child abuse allegations against retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

"This is one more meaningful step toward strengthening our efforts to keep our community safe," Erickson said. The president also mentioned the hiring of a new Clery Act compliance coordinator, as another recent action. On March 26, Penn State hired Gabriel Gates for the Clery post, to ensure the University's overall compliance with the Clery Act and associated regulations at all campuses. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses. Also in the area of compliance, the University is set to launch a search for a director of University compliance, who will coordinate the vast array of compliance-related issues and offices across Penn State. A search firm will be used to attract the best candidates from a national pool.

In addition, the University is undertaking a comprehensive review of all of its policies and is considering the implementation of a number of rules that are not currently on the books.

"Everyone cares deeply about building a safe community for our children and will be passionate about taking any step to help,” Erickson said.

Last Updated April 12, 2012