Penn State to create Center for the Protection of Children

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's share of football bowl game revenues not only will be used for a newly formed partnership with an advocacy group for victims of sexual violence, but now also will help launch a center for the study, research, prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Following allegations of child sexual abuse against a retired assistant coach, Penn State officials are establishing the Center for the Protection of Children, which will eventually be home to hundreds of child abuse experts from across Penn State.

"We are opting to put our expertise and research power to work confronting the problem of abuse," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson. "We want to be known as a University that is doing the right thing and we have committed ourselves to being the national leader on the prevention and treatment of child abuse, so that we will have a meaningful role in fighting this horrific crime."

Last week, Erickson announced Penn State’s partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center with a University commitment of $1.5 million. The partnership will extend the collective reach of programs offered by these two agencies. Funding is coming from Penn State's share of this year's Big Ten bowl revenues and any remaining money from those bowl games -- generally estimated to be in the area of $500,000 to $800,000 -- will now go toward the new Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children.

This new center located at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and directed by Dr. Andrea Taroli, who is one of less then 200 board certified child abuse pediatricians. Not all plans for the center are firmly in place, but Erickson said there is currently enough expertise within the University to launch this initiative.

To move the center forward over time, an interdisciplinary Presidential Task Force comprised of faculty from around the University has been formed to inventory Penn State’s current resources and areas of strength that can provide a foundation for innovative research, practice and outreach related to child maltreatment. The task force also will recommend new activities and initiatives and identify new areas of expertise that may shine fresh light on the issue of child abuse.

As the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children develops, involvement from across the University will increase and efforts around child abuse prevention, protection and treatment will encompass nearly every area of the University.

"We envision a center that taps into the vast knowledge and experience our faculty have in all areas of child maltreatment -- from prevention, to education, advocacy, protection, legal information, psychological aspects, medical treatment and more," Erickson said. "We want this to be a broad-based effort that will make a difference in the nation and the world."

Erickson said he sees the center becoming a critical source of information for state and federal policy makers, as well as "a place that affects serious and lasting change."

While the center will focus widely on child maltreatment, a critical component of the center's work will concentrate on sexual abuse of children. Faculty members within the College of Medicine are already recognized nationally and internationally for their work on behalf of children and their families, and now plan to accelerate those efforts.

Erickson also mentioned the excellent work already being accomplished by a number of agencies across Pennsylvania, such as the Child Advocacy Centers, which already respond in many ways to the needs of the community. It is Erickson's hope that the new center can collaborate with these agencies and others to create a stronger network of resources and a safer environment for children.

Some areas of particular focus for Hershey faculty within the new Center for Protection of Children will include the creation of a foster child primary care clinic; a system of data collection; the launch of educational programs for professionals, teachers and the general public; the creation of multidisciplinary courses for medical students; more treatment services; opportunities for research into diagnosis and treatment of child abuse; advocacy and policy recommendations; psychological treatment, with trauma-focused therapy; and a medical-legal partnership with the Penn State Law to evaluate the medical and legal needs of abused children.

In addition to the Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, several other areas of the University have been identified as potential early collaborators:

-- Penn State Law and its Children's Advocacy Clinic, which provides legal advice for children who are abused or neglected, as well as those involved in other civil court actions such as adoption, domestic violence and custody matters. The center takes a multidisciplinary approach to addressing children's needs and consults with faculty across the University on the non-legal issues associated with its clients.

-- The Children, Youth and Families Consortium is a University-wide initiative that brings together more than 400 faculty, representing a range of disciplines (human development, the liberal arts, education, agriculture and medicine), that promote collaborative research, outreach and teaching to address critical social issues facing children, youth and families.

"We will search for additional national experts in this area to join our team, who will bring with them a wealth of knowledge that will hopefully help slow or solve what has become an epidemic," said Erickson. "The abuse of children in any form is simply unacceptable and we can all help end it."

For more information on the center or to find out how to support these initiatives, go to http://www.pshcpc.psu.edu.

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Last Updated December 14, 2011