Prevent Child Abuse America president says ‘prevention is possible’

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Most people know that child abuse is a major issue in the United States, but according to Prevent Child Abuse America CEO and President James Hmurovich, there is no clearly defined, shared vision that everyone can work toward. However, he said, that vision could be as simple as ensuring that “every child lives a happy and healthy life.”

More than 175 people gathered on April 23 in the HUB Auditorium to hear Hmurovich share his national perspective on this complex issue. He talked about what Prevent Child Abuse America — with chapters in all 50 states — is doing to help the general public understand that child abuse prevention goes beyond universities, youth centers and law offices.

“Every child is our child,” he said. “We must connect the dots for the American public. It’s a community issue and a national issue.”

A panel of experts and advocates joined Hmurovich on stage and provided the audience with a wealth of information from a variety of perspectives. As a part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, the event, titled “Making a Difference Every Day, Preventing Child Abuse Begins with You,” was an opportunity for the campus and local communities to reaffirm their commitment to building awareness and safe environments for children.

“One of the biggest challenges is breaking the silence. This is an everyday issue and not just on the news.”

    — Cristina Fernandez, president of

student group One Heart

Hmurovich said his organization has made a concerted effort to focus on prevention and highlighted a few strategies, including home visitations and parent education and support. He said most agree prevention is important, but few have a clear definition.

“To us, prevention is that the abuse never happens,” Hmurovich said. “If we emphasize the services and programs that have an evidence base behind them, we can have a life-long impact on child development.”

Hmurovich said he believes prevention is possible, but every individual must act. He pointed to research that found abused children have a high likelihood of becoming abusers later in life.

“If you think (abuse) happens in a family and it stays there, you’re wrong,” Hmurovich said. “We all have a role … but there’s a big gap between what we know and what we’re doing. We need to engage people in the solutions.”

The panel of student, faculty, community and state leaders shared their prevention efforts with the audience. Panelists included Centre County Judge Bradley Lunsford; First Assistant District Attorney of Montgomery County and Penn State Alumni Association Vice President Kevin Steele; president of the student group One Heart Cristina Fernandez; Penn State Youth Programs Compliance Specialist Sandra Weaver; and Penn State’s Network on Child Protection and Well-Being Director of Research and Education and Professor of Human Development and Family Studies Jennie Noll.

Noll said that there are 1.2 million substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in the United States every year.

“How come we don’t all know that?” she asked the crowd. “Most would agree that there isn’t (anything) much more stressful than sexual abuse … and it’s a kind of stress that never goes away.”

Noll spoke about the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being’s many efforts in combating child maltreatment. The Network’s mission is to produce new knowledge about the issue and design approaches to prevent, detect and treat children who have experienced abuse.

Weaver talked about youth programs at all of the University’s campuses and the importance of training for faculty and staff — not just the ones who work with kids. Programs include sports and academic camps, as well as 4-H. She said about 150,000 minors partake in Penn State youth programs every year.

“Compare that total to the 84,000 undergraduates at Penn State, you get the idea of how many children we work with on our campuses,” Weaver said. “We have so many wonderful things going on. It’s important to train everybody.”

Representing the community, Lunsford spoke about the effectiveness of programs like the Stewards of Children training. He said it taught him how important it was to promote child abuse prevention and generate awareness through evidence-based training.

“I went in thinking, ‘What can they teach me?’ ” he said. “I walked out of the training humbled.”

Lunsford was a strong proponent of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County, which opened in February. He said after taking part in Stewards of Children, he wanted a “gold-standard, state-of-the-art children’s advocacy center” in Centre County.

Fernandez, a junior majoring in actuary science, shared the many year-round initiatives organized by One Heart and other student groups.

“One of the biggest challenges is breaking the silence,” she said. “This is an everyday issue and not just on the news.”

One Heart has trained 70 students through the Stewards of Children program and raised approximately $150,000 at the annual Blue-Out football games.

“We don’t do it because we feel like we should,” Fernandez said. “It’s a necessity and we have the power to decide whether (abuse) will end or not.”

Hmurovich concluded the event by saying how impressed he was by the efforts of Penn State, its students and the community.

“I think there are a lot of lessons that I’ve learned (here),” he said. It is a model that everyone should practice throughout the country, he added.

The event was sponsored by the University Park Undergraduate Association and the Network for Child Protection and Well-Being, along with Penn State student organizations including One Heart and Walk for Prevention; Penn State's Offices of Student Affairs, Human Resources, and Ethics and Compliance; and community organizations including the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County, Centre County Youth Service Bureau, Centre County Women’s Resource Center, YMCA of Centre County and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR).

Contacts: 

Jonathan F. McVerry

Work Phone: 
814-865-7011

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

Last Updated May 13, 2014