Child protection center showcases ongoing initiatives, new expertise

Since its founding in late 2011, Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children has built off a strong foundation of clinical and research expertise in the area of child maltreatment and trauma to create and expand programs and initiatives for improving the health and well-being of at-risk children.

At an event at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital today, Center for the Protection of Children staff updated legislators and other guests on some of the initiatives under way and introduced a few new faces.

In fall 2013, Dr. Lori D. Frasier joined Penn State Hershey from The University of Utah School of Medicine as chief of the new Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics. Frasier is internationally known as an expert in the growing field of child abuse pediatrics and serves on the board that sets the guidelines for certifying medical professionals in the field. At the Children’s Hospital, she leads a team of expert pediatricians, knowledgeable in medicine and injury analysis, who evaluate children with injuries suspected of being caused by abuse, recommend testing, speak with parents and serves as liaisons to community agencies such as Children and Youth Services, police and the legal system.

Frasier has played a key role in the center’s development of a specialized clinic for at-risk children in the foster care system. The clinic, to be located in downtown Harrisburg, will provide a “medical home” for these children. It will also provide Penn State researchers the opportunity to access de-identified data that may help them find clues to the prevention of child abuse and maltreatment. The clinic is expected to open this spring or summer.

In March, the center will have additional clinical expertise on board when Dr. Kent Hymel, a second board-certified child abuse pediatrician, joins the Children’s Hospital from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth, where he is the medical director of the Child Advocacy and Protection Program. Hymel is an internationally known expert in child abuse with a research focus on abusive head trauma.

The center has also recruited Dr. Brian Allen, a clinical child psychologist, to serve as its director of mental health services and conduct research on evidence-based treatment of child abuse, starting in June. These new staff members join a dedicated social worker, the existing clinical Child Protection Team (led by Dr. Kate Crowell) and Dr. Benjamin Levi, professor of pediatrics and humanities, director of the center.

The center is part of Penn State’s Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, a University-wide initiative that promotes and supports interdisciplinary collaborations in research, education and evidence-based practice and policy that are aimed at better understanding, treating and ultimately preventing child maltreatment. Hymel and Allen are two of the 12 “cluster hires” the University committed to the Network.

“The Center for the Protection of Children is tackling one of the most difficult and devastating problems our society faces, that is, the abuse and maltreatment of children,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson told the crowd of legislators and others Thursday. “The work under way at this center addresses heartbreaking issues; and it gives hope and help to families.”

The center draws upon unique resources, such as the College of Medicine’s Department of Humanities, which takes a creative, humanistic approach to developing interventions to protect children, and the research infrastructure and collaborations fostered by the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute.

“Taken together, all of these resources represent Penn State Hershey’s strong commitment to combatting the devastating problem of child abuse through clinical care, education, advocacy and outreach, and through research that advances our understanding of all aspects of child protection and well-being,” said Dr. Harold L. Paz, CEO of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and dean, Penn State College of Medicine.

Event guests saw firsthand how the center uses the expertise of Penn State Hershey Simulation Center to train pediatric residents on the intricacies of interacting with the parents of a child for whom abuse is suspected. Dr. Mark Dias was on hand to talk about his long-standing research and outreach activities related to shaken baby syndrome and other abusive head trauma.

“Research on child abuse and child protection is vital to helping us serve the needs of vulnerable children, and it takes many forms,” said Dr. Daniel A. Notterman, vice dean for research and graduate studies, Penn State College of Medicine, and a professor of pediatrics and biochemistry and molecular biology. “From studies into how abuse can change a child’s epigenetic makeup, to using evidence-based approaches to establishing best practices for treating the mental health effects of abuse, we are committed to putting our deep and broad expertise to work toward solutions.”

Other center projects under way include expanding electronic access to the state’s child abuse reporting form through the center’s Look Out for Child Abuse website to all Pennsylvania counties (a partnership with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania) and development of multimedia, interactive, e-learning modules geared toward early childhood educators and administrators (in affiliation with Queensland University of Technology and the Network of Victim Assistance.)

Additionally, the new administrative home of the center and the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics on the seventh floor of the Biomedical Research Building offers private and shared work space for center staff and visitors, an informal meeting space, and a conference room designed to host lectures, research meetings and small public events, as well as interactions with legislators, policy makers and others.

“We are at the point where we have a ‘deep bench’ and a strong institutional commitment to realize the vision of the Center for the Protection of Children, to build an evidence-based, interdisciplinary approach for understanding, treating and ultimately preventing child abuse and neglect,” Levi said.

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Last Updated March 11, 2014