Pediatrician joins Network on Child Protection and Well-Being

HERSHEY, Pa. — Kent Hymel says that joining Penn State’s Network on Child Protection and Well-Being will enable him to fulfill professional goals that he cannot achieve anywhere else. The resources and collaborative opportunities with the University’s child maltreatment experts were too good to pass up.

Hymel started at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital in March. He is a child abuse pediatrician and his research focuses on child physical abuse evaluation, with an emphasis on developing improved methods for screening for abusive head trauma. He expects that working with Penn State’s renowned faculty experts studying children, youth and families will help his research flourish.

His research is aimed at improving the sensitivity and specificity of when and how evaluations for suspected child abuse occur — with particular emphasis on developing and implementing an algorithm regarding abusive head trauma that can be used by clinicians across the country.

Physicians may struggle with a decision to launch — or forego — an evaluation for physical abuse, Hymel said. A screening tool can provide an objective basis for the decision to proceed with a full scale child abuse evaluation, and would promote consistent, evidence-based practice for addressing a complex problem.

“There are data that show variability among physicians and other clinicians on whether to conduct a full-scale evaluation for suspected abuse,” Hymel said. “Evidence shows that professionals can be inconsistent in their judgments. This hurts children, their families and the professional community as well. We’re working to develop and validate an evidence-based measurement tool that combines relevant clinical findings to estimate the probability of abuse.”

Physicians may struggle with a decision to launch — or forego — an evaluation for physical abuse, Hymel said. A screening tool can provide an objective basis for the decision to proceed with a full scale child abuse evaluation, and would promote consistent, evidence-based practice for addressing a complex problem.

Having colleagues to work with will strengthen Hymel’s research. That is why establishing new collaborations is first on his to-do list.

“I look forward to talking with others who come at the problem of child maltreatment from other disciplinary perspectives, with a different knowledge basis and methodological tools,” Hymel said. “That’s the real carrot. I believe Penn State and the network will provide these kinds of opportunities.”

Hymel joins Jennie Noll, professor of human development and family studies, and director of research and education for the network; Chad Shenk, assistant professor of human development and family studies; Lori Frasier, professor of pediatrics and division chief of child abuse pediatrics; and Idan Shalev, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, as some of at least 12 network faculty hires. Brian Allen, a clinical child psychologist, is scheduled to join the network in June through an appointment at Penn State Hershey.

For decades, Penn State has supported faculty members whose research spans a range of topics pertaining to child and family behavior, health and development. The network’s hires add expertise focused specifically on child maltreatment. Network faculty members are working to build cross-disciplinary collaborations and community-University relationships with the goal of translating research into sustainable, real-world practice.

Hymel joins Penn State Hershey from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. He directed the medical center’s Child Advocacy and Protection Program. Prior to that, he was at the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children in Virginia, where he served as medical director of its Forensic Assessment and Consultation Team.

After completing his medical training, Hymel spent 20 years with the U.S. Air Force, serving at bases around the world. While serving in the Air Force, he trained as a child abuse pediatrician. Prior to retiring from active duty, Hymel served as the Air Force Medical Consultant in Child Abuse.

More information about the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being is available at http://protecthildren.psu.edu. The network will host its third annual Conference on Child Protection and Well-Being on May 5 and 6 on the University Park campus. Registration for and details about the conference, “Families at Risk: The Role of Parenting and Family Processes in Child Maltreatment and Intervention,” is available on the website.

Contacts: 

Jonathan F. McVerry

Work Phone: 
814-865-7011

Communications Manager
Network on Child Protection and Well-Being
Social Science Research Institute

Last Updated April 14, 2014