The Network on Child Protection and Well-Being

"Our darkest days." The cover of the January/February 2012 issue of the University's alumni magazine, the Penn Stater, aptly described the mood on campus following the news of child sex abuse by former football coach Jerry Sandusky. The letters of the Penn Stater banner, which normally sit prominently at the top of the magazine's cover, lay in a heap at the bottom of the blackened page. University affiliates at all levels -- faculty, staff, students, and alumni -- were shocked by the heinous crimes, and their hearts went out to the victims.

Determined to make a positive difference in the lives of at-risk children, members of the University community began to take steps toward combatting child maltreatment. Then-President Rodney Erickson established a task force to explore how Penn State, through its mission to advance research, education, and service, could best address what has been described as an "invisible" problem -- but one researchers have shown can affect the life-long health and well-being of victims.

Craig Hillemeier, senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the College of Medicine, and Susan McHale, director of the Penn State Social Science Research Institute and professor of human development and family studies, co-chaired the task force. Its first step was to propose a University-wide Network on Child Protection and Well-Being.

"Child abuse is difficult to study and hard to treat," says McHale. "The Network on Child Protection and Well-Being is approaching the serious and widespread problem of child maltreatment from a wide variety of angles and involving individuals from many disciplines and professions with a goal of making a real difference."

As part of this effort, Penn State is hiring at least 12 new faculty members, each with expertise in child maltreatment issues. Several of these faculty members already have been hired.

"If we can bring the best and brightest minds to do relevant work, then Pennsylvania can really be a place where we lead the charge in terms of translating research in a way that moves policy and practice," says Jennie Noll, the network's director of research and education and the first new faculty member to be hired.

Another goal of the network is to create an undergraduate minor in child advocacy and maltreatment studies for students who plan to work in professions involving at-risk children.

The network also sponsors an annual conference on child protection and well-being, the theme of which changes each year. This year's conference, slated for September 30 and October 1, 2015, will focus on new frontiers in the biology of stress and maltreatment trauma.

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Last Updated June 24, 2015