University creates endowment to support child maltreatment research

By Jonathan McVerry
February 11, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State is investing $12 million in an endowment, proceeds from which will advance the University’s academic mission of research, education and service, focusing on child maltreatment. These additional funds originated from $60 million that the University dedicated to assisting children who have experienced abuse or neglect and to prevent further child abuse from occurring. The remaining $48 million will help provide services to child victims across the Commonwealth.

University officials approved a proposal that allocates the endowment’s proceeds to the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, a consortium of faculty researchers, clinicians and advocates committed to combatting child maltreatment. Launched in 2012, the Network builds on Penn State’s longstanding tradition of innovative and interdisciplinary research on children, youth and families.

The Network is a unit of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute and is directed by Jennie Noll, professor of Human Development and Family Studies, an internationally renowned expert on child sexual abuse and its long-term health impacts.

“The Network is an unprecedented opportunity to identify, facilitate and coordinate multidisciplinary child maltreatment research that will significantly advance knowledge and move the field forward in ways that will maximize the health and well-being of victims and their families,” Noll said. “This endowment sets the stage for Penn State’s future interdisciplinary research partnerships, educational initiatives and delivery of evidence-based prevention and treatment programs for at-risk and abused children. Working together and with community partners across the Commonwealth, we will make a sustained difference in the lives of these children and their families.”

Funds will be used to support a range of activities, including the following:

— Provide seed-grant funding to Penn State faculty teams to promote novel, interdisciplinary and translational research aimed at preventing, detecting and treating child abuse and neglect with a focus on child sexual abuse.

— Host an annual series of highly visible, interdisciplinary and translational forums including conferences, speaker series, workshops and awareness events focused on combating child maltreatment. To date, the Network has co-sponsored three national conferences on child protection, and a fourth, “New Frontiers in the Biology of Stress, Maltreatment and Trauma: Opportunities for Translation and Resilience,” is scheduled for September 2015.

— Develop and implement novel interdisciplinary education programs. For example, an intercollege undergraduate minor in Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies (CMAS), designed to educate the next generation of scientists and practitioners, is being reviewed by the University Faculty Senate this spring.

— Support the Network in functioning as Penn State’s clearinghouse for information, awareness and communications pertaining to child maltreatment.

— Provide infrastructure support for a translational laboratory where education and research can be seamlessly integrated within clinical services to patients — the Transforming Lives of Children (TLC) clinic. Located in Harrisburg, the TLC provides evidence-based clinical services for victims of child maltreatment. The clinic is directed by Dr. Lori Frasier, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

A stipulation of the endowment was a specific focus on childhood sexual abuse. Although the Network’s larger focus is on child maltreatment, efforts in this area will advance understanding of the substantial comorbidities between child sexual abuse and other forms of maltreatment, such as neglect and emotional and physical abuse.

Since its launch, the Network has sponsored conferences and awareness events, supported pilot research and developed educational programming. Working together with departments from around the University, the Network is also conducting a cluster hire of at least 12 new faculty members with expertise in the prevention, detection and treatment of child abuse and neglect. To date, seven faculty members have been hired in five departments across three colleges and additional searches are underway.

“Through conducting impactful research, we can champion evidence-based initiatives and change the way policy invests in the detection, prevention and treatment of abuse. Our work will maximize the probability that child abuse will occur less frequently and that its effects will be far less damaging,” Neil Sharkey, vice president for Research, said. “Combined with our education initiative, we can inspire young people to invest in professions that directly serve abused children and their families on a multitude of fronts.”

Last Updated February 12, 2015