Task force continues initiatives to help abused and neglected children

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Moving ahead with the promise to help prevent and treat child abuse, a Penn State task force has started to marshal the University's research and expertise in these areas.

The Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment brings together a broad spectrum of faculty from across the University to coordinate and develop research, clinical practice, outreach and education on child maltreatment.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson commissioned the task force, along with other initiatives, following the allegations in November of sexual abuse against a retired assistant football coach. Erickson said Penn State is committed to being the national leader on the prevention and treatment of child maltreatment.

"We have resolved to raise broader awareness of issues of child abuse and find ways to prevent these crimes while also treating victims and helping them to heal," Erickson said. "This task force will bring together our University's greatest strengths and help us to develop new programs that will make a lasting impact in addressing issues of child maltreatment."

Penn State previously announced the formation of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children and a partnership to prevent and treat sexual abuse with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The task force is co-chaired by Susan McHale, professor of human development and director of the Children, Youth and Families Consortium and Social Science Research Institute; and A. Craig Hillemeier, vice dean for clinical affairs and chair of the department of pediatrics and medical director at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.

The formation of this task force is the beginning of a process that will provide faculty from across the University the opportunity to work together and receive the support they need to address issues of child maltreatment.

"Our faculty already is recognized nationally and internationally for its work on behalf of children and their families," McHale said. "Many faculty members have devoted their careers to promoting the health and well-being of children throughout Pennsylvania, across the nation and around the world. A University-wide, interdisciplinary initiative engenders a renewed awareness of the complex problem of child maltreatment and gives us the opportunity to respond in a meaningful way."

The scope of child maltreatment is difficult to gauge. Although it is estimated that about one-third of victims never disclose their abuse, some data suggest that 25 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys will be sexually abused and that there are more than 42 million adult survivors of sexual abuse in the United States alone.  Rates of child neglect and maltreatment are even higher, with social, political and economic conditions around the world making children ever more vulnerable.

Faculty from across the University have been convened to develop a proposal for how Penn State can make significant contributions to knowledge, practice, education and outreach on child maltreatment and protection. Members include faculty from the colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Communications, Education, Engineering, Health and Human Development, Information Sciences and Technology, the Liberal Arts, Medicine and Science; Penn State Law; School of Nursing; University Libraries; and Penn State Outreach.

The task force also will develop a plan for promoting and supporting new research, clinical practice and outreach for the prevention and treatment of child maltreatment, and its recommendations will be presented to Erickson.

As part of its work, the task force will review and integrate new activities and initiatives across Penn State, including the launch of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children. Additionally, the task force, through the Children, Youth and Families Consortium (CYFC) Seed Grant Program, has announced a call for proposals by Penn State research teams to conduct new, interdisciplinary research on child maltreatment. CYFC's Faculty Fellows program has issued a call for proposals by faculty who wish to redirect their research programs to encompass child abuse and neglect issues.

An inventory of existing teaching, research, clinical and outreach resources is under way to identify existing areas of strength -- such as Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and the CYFC -- and develop new ones.

"A University-wide initiative is an opportunity to draw on expertise and resources such as the Colleges of IST and Science that have not traditionally emphasized child health and well-being," Hillemeier said. "We will work to identify new areas of expertise that may shine new light on these issues through a novel, interdisciplinary endeavor."

For an overview of identified courses, see live.psu.edu/story/57764.

Members of the task force will meet with internationally recognized leaders in related fields to help identify areas where Penn State can make its greatest contributions and identify experts who may help lead the initiative.

Seeking to identify possible components of a Penn State initiative, the task force will assess the structures and accomplishments of existing institutes and centers around the country that focus on child maltreatment and sexual abuse.

"We are seeking a transformative, interdisciplinary approach to child health and wellness," McHale said. "This is a response that is worthy of our tradition of academic excellence at Penn State."

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Last Updated February 28, 2012