UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This fall semester, Chad Shenk will join Penn State as one of the initial hires of the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being. A clinical child psychologist, Shenk will play an integral role in making Penn State a premier institution for research, education and practice aimed at combating child maltreatment.
He joins Jennie Noll and Idan Shalev among the first of at least 12 hires at the University who will build a breadth of expertise on child maltreatment. For decades, Penn State has supported researchers who focus on many areas of child and family health, and development. Network faculty members will work to build cross-disciplinary collaborations and community-University relationships with the goal of translating research into sustainable, real-world practice.
Shenk is a Penn State alumnus and returns to University Park from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where he was an assistant professor of pediatrics.
While a graduate student at the University of Nevada-Reno, he noticed that patients who had trouble managing stress and regulating emotions often had a history of physical and sexual abuse.
“About 80 percent of my case load had a history of abuse,” Shenk said. His research aims to find ways of addressing the effects of abuse at an early stage and before negative health outcomes emerge and worsen. “If we can identify causal pathways, we can prevent and treat various outcomes of early traumatic experiences much more effectively.”
For example, research shows that not every abused child will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even though many do. Shenk’s research examines what may cause or prevent PTSD in a person with a history of abuse. In 2007, Shenk began a fellowship during which he studied this topic, focusing on psychological and neurobiological mechanisms that might lead to psychiatric outcomes in individuals who had been maltreated as children.
“I want to continue that research at Penn State,” he said. “My goal is to start by evaluating which treatments are most effective at targeting the causal mechanisms that link early maltreatment with later PTSD symptoms.”
Shenk plans to build relationships with state agencies and work closely with faculty members at the Penn State Hershey College of Medicine and at the Hershey Medical Center Children’s Hospital to spearhead the network’s translational goals. Shenk’s activities will be directed at building collaborative relationships toward implementing sustainable, evidence-based clinical service programs.
“It’s very exciting. There are many different areas of expertise at Penn State,” he said. “We will be able to address new areas of child maltreatment research and practice, and we have the knowledge base at Penn State to make sure we are doing the best science on the topic toward implementing programs that are cost efficient and maximally effective.”
The network was launched in the fall of 2012 from a recommendation provided by the Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment. It is a collection of University faculty from many disciplines who collaborate to build a translational research and education program that addresses child abuse from many angles. As a part of the network’s cluster hire on child maltreatment, Shenk’s appointment will be in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Health and Human Development. Shenk said his affiliation with the department expands his research opportunities and possibilities.
“It’s one of the best human development programs in the country,” he said. “It has expertise in many different areas, which will enable collaborations for securing external funding to support research and practice innovations.”
Douglas Teti, professor of human development, psychology and pediatrics and member of the network cluster hire search committee, said Shenk has extensive experience working with maltreated children and their families, particularly with respect to the role of family and biobehavioral risk factors in the development of psychopathology in children.
“His research on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and identifying effective intervention approaches fits well with our interdisciplinary emphasis,” Teti said. “Dr. Shenk is highly respected and his work on child maltreatment is very impressive.”