Network News

Little boy along and stressed
Biological responses to conflict differ in maltreated children
Feb 13, 2019

In families where child maltreatment is present, biological responses to conflict may be altered in both parents and children.

Idan Shalev
Researcher to study how adversity can lead to susceptibility to disease
Feb 7, 2019

How adversity early in life can lead to susceptibility to disease will be studied through a project initially funded through Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s "Bridges to Translation" pilot grant program.

Kindergarten students learning with teacher
Keeping kids on task in school may start at home
Feb 1, 2019

The transition to kindergarten can be a challenge for children who have trouble paying attention, and can result in behavioral problems and poor academic achievement. A team led by researchers at Penn State is analyzing task persistence and how parents can influence it in early childhood.

Erika Lunkenheimer
Lunkenheimer's paper on interpersonal neurobiology of child maltreatment published
Jan 25, 2019

The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Child Maltreatment: Parasympathetic Substrates of Interactive Repair in Maltreating and Nonmaltreating Mother–Child Dyads Abstract Children’s repair of conflict with parents may be particularly challenging in maltreating families, and early, stressful parent–child interactions may contribute to children’s altered neurobiological regulatory systems. To explore neurobiological signatures of repair processes, we examined whether mother and child individual and dyadic respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) covaried with interactive repair differently in maltreating versus nonmaltreating mother–preschooler dyads (N = 101), accounting for whether repair was mother or child initiated. Mother-initiated repair was equally frequent and protective across groups, associated with no change in mother or child RSA at higher levels of repair. But lower levels of mother repair were associated with child RSA withdrawal in nonmaltreating dyads versus child RSA augmentation in maltreating dyads. In maltreating dyads only, higher child-initiated repair was associated with higher mean mother RSA, whereas lower child repair was associated with mother RSA withdrawal. Findings suggest that interactive repair may have a buffering effect on neurobiological regulation but also that maltreating mothers and children show atypical neurobiological response to interpersonal challenges including differences related to children conducting the work of interactive repair that maltreating parents are less able to provide. We conclude by considering the role of maladaptive parent–child relationship processes in the biological embedding of early adversity. To read the full paper, go to the Sage Journals website.

Christine Heim
Heim makes top list in Biological Psychiatry
Jan 11, 2019

Christine Heim, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network co-funded faculty member and professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, was one of the authors of a paper listed among the 10 Most Highly Cited Papers Published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, according to Scopus(as of August 6, 2018).

Child in the dark forest with light shining through trees
Editorial: Moving our communities from darkness to light
Dec 5, 2018

It is the quietest epidemic, but its numbers do not lie.

Child maltreatment
Sexual risk assessment tool in the child welfare system developed
Dec 5, 2018

Children in the welfare system are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) according to a 2013 U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means hearing, but few practical screening tools currently exist to identify victims and those at risk for sexual exploitation, according to an interdisciplinary team of Penn State researchers. "Most of the screening measures that exist are quite broad and geared towards sex trafficking of young adults and adults, and we found that there wasn't an effective assessment tool looking at children, particularly those who have been involved in the child welfare system," said Carlomagno Panlilio, assistant professor of education and Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) co-funded faculty member.  Abuse can happen anywhere, but there tends to be a higher victimization risk for children in welfare because of prior abuse and an absence of stable caregivers, according to the researchers. "Our study is the first to examine risk factors for CSEC using a large, nationally representative sample of both male and female youth whose families were investigated by Child Welfare Services," the researchers report in a special issue of Child Abuse and Neglect. The researchers, who are developing an evaluation tool, are part of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State. Funded by both Penn State and the National Institutes of Health, the network's goal is to raise public awareness about the scope and gravity of child maltreatment through efficient translation of evidence-based research and by partnering with community providers and public policy leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. Panlilio and his colleagues used 2,244 children's responses, a representative sample of both males and females, obtained from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being study, which surveyed children and families that had been investigated by Child Protective Services. They used a statistical model to examine the underlying range of risk for childhood sexual exploitation based on how the children answered survey questions. Within this process, choosing a response that affirms the question would signal an indication of risk. For example, when asked about whether the child felt suicidal, the child could choose the response "I do not think about killing myself" or "I want to kill myself." Questions like this, on a broad variety of subjects, make up the assessment survey. Additionally, the model allowed researchers to test whether certain items can discriminate between children who are higher or lower in this range of risk. For example, if an item is considered to discriminate well, then children with a low risk of CSEC would have a smaller chance of affirming a particular question. This study was an initial exploratory attempt to examine potentially useful items to use in a screening measure, which was based on prior studies and a strong theoretical model. "Before we engaged in developing a potential instrument, we wanted to see how the items would perform on a large-scale data set," said Panlilio. This psychological measurement approach would enable the researchers to create an effective assessment that can potentially reveal which children in the welfare system are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, and could serve as the first step towards prevention of the exploitation of maltreated children. "We started with 11 predictors based on our review of previous literature, and what we found surprising was that some of these questions were not performing well," said Panlilio. "The items were unable to discriminate the presence or absence for the severity of risk." For example, a question included in previous assessment models created by other researchers asks, "When I'm with a caregiver, I feel unhappy. How true is this?" "If they (children) are in foster care, they are probably not happy with their caregiver," said Panlilio. "Questions like this don't necessarily indicate a risk of sexual exploitation." Such questions were excluded from the final model that Panlilio's research team created. The final model used seven rather than 11 items. The researchers also tested how the response rate to certain questions differed based on gender. Their results indicate a high severity risk of sexual exploitation for males who answered positively to questions about drug or alcohol use, a previous runaway incident, suicidality, and exposure to severe violence. "We want to understand if the severity of risk is different for boys and girls," said Panlilio. Previous models solely focused on female victims of sexual exploitation. "This is the first step in instrument development regarding how we can begin to identify specific risk indicators for children who have the potential to be sexually exploited in the welfare system," said Panlilio. "In the future, we would like to collaborate with others and test the items in a sample of the population." Other Penn State researchers on the paper include SSRI co-funds Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing; Sarah Font, assistant professor of sociology; and Hannah Schreier, assistant professor of biobehavioral health. The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supported this work.

SAFE-T senate briefing
SAFE-T Center takes part in congressional briefing on sexual assault victim care
Dec 4, 2018

The Penn State College of Nursing’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center played a key role in a congressional briefing Nov. 27 to educate congressional staffers about efforts to improve access to health care for sexual assault victims.  Some of those barriers include a shortage of trained sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), especially in rural areas, due to factors such as burnout, inadequate pay, and a high turnover rate, said Kristina Rose, executive director of End Violence Against Women International, which coordinated the briefing. “These barriers have consequences. Victims don’t get services (and) suffer in silence without support,” said Rose. “(But) there are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things to ensure that victims of sexual assault have access to the care they need, no matter who they are or where they live.” The SAFE-T Center at Penn State was established in 2016 with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, to enhance compassionate, high-quality care for sexual assault victims in underserved Pennsylvania communities. “When forensic examinations are conducted by a confident, trained examiner, it is the first step toward healing for the patient,” said SSRI co-funded faculty member Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator for the SAFE-T Center. The SAFE-T Center model uses telehealth technology to connect less experienced nurses in underserved areas with an expert SANE — i.e., a “teleSANE.” Earlier this year, the center launched three hospital partner sites in DuBois, Huntingdon and Wellsboro. “Our team has spent time planning and thoughtfully building key components to ensure this work is successful,” Miyamoto said. “We have determined how to provide expert care securely from a distance. Our lab is constantly refining our technology and systems so that we have a fiscally responsible solution with critical attention to privacy and security issues. We are clarifying costs and benefits and conducting rigorous program evaluation and research so we can demonstrate the value of this program to stakeholders who seek to solve issues of access, equity and retention of a skilled SANE workforce. “Every person should have access to high-quality care, no matter where they live,” Miyamoto concluded. “We do not accept disparities in care for cancer or heart disease, and we should not accept it for victims of sexual assault.” Other panelists included Joanne Archambault, founder and CEO of End Violence Against Women International; Joan Meunier-Sham, director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health SANE Program and co-director of the National TeleNursing Center; Debra Holbrook, director of forensic nursing at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland; Kristie M. Traver, co-director of the National Indian Country Clearinghouse on Sexual Assault SAFESTAR Alaska Office; and Jenifer Markowitz, founder of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, Forensic Healthcare Online. The briefing was hosted by U.S. Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, co-sponsors of Senate Bill 3203, the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act (SASCA). SASCA was introduced in July 2018 to increase access to medical forensic sexual assault examinations and treatment provided by sexual assault forensic examiners by identifying and addressing barriers to obtaining those services.

Students studying
Penn State prepares students to work with children
Dec 3, 2018

Students in human development and family studies, biobehavioral health, education, nursing, psychology, and other degree programs are benefiting from a minor that delivers critical training to those who want to work with children. Penn State’s undergraduate education minor in Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies (CMAS) is designed to give students a broad overview of child protection and advocacy, including the detection, treatment, and prevention of child maltreatment. According to Chad Shenk, associate professor of human development and family studies and faculty member of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, CMAS is an interdisciplinary minor that gives Penn State students majoring in any discipline the resources they need to understand the issues surrounding child protection and well-being. “Students who are planning careers that have any direct involvement with children, such as counseling, law enforcement, healthcare, research, social work, education, forensic sciences, or child welfare will certainly benefit from the CMAS minor.” Students successfully completing the minor also receive the CAST (Child Advocacy Studies) Certification. CAST is a widely recognized certificate that helps enhance competitiveness for entry-level jobs within child welfare agencies and it is beneficial when applying to a multitude of graduate programs. The CMAS minor was officially established in the spring of 2015 after the successful offering of its prerequisite course, CMAS 258 - Introduction to Child Maltreatment and Advocacy Studies. According to Shenk, the course provides an overview of the epidemiology of child maltreatment, methods of recognizing and reporting it, and its long-term impact on public health. “Interest in the CMAS minor has grown rapidly since 2015, with almost 100 students currently enrolled in the minor. As of this year, 35 students have graduated with the minor,” he said. One reason for the growing interest in the CMAS minor is that faculty and instructors comprise an interdisciplinary team that brings diverse, real-world experiences to classroom. “Several CMAS faculty and instructors have a background in the child protection service field while others are nationally-recognized researchers,” said Shenk. “Because both the instructors and students come from varied backgrounds and experiences, classroom discussions are both engaging and educational for all students.” Shenk helped to develop the CMAS minor, designing and teaching two of the four required courses, CMAS 258 and CMAS 465 - Child Maltreatment Prevention and Treatment. He was recently awarded a Teaching Excellence Award from the College of Health and Human Development for his work in developing courses for the minor.  The other two required courses in the minor are CMAS 466 – Systems and Community Responses, and CMAS 493 – Capstone Experience. CMAS 493 requires an internship which can be completed in an already established partnership, through a research project on campus, or students can design their own. “Several students have worked in the NIH Capstone Center for Healthy Children research project here at Penn State to meet the requirements of the internship,” Shenk explained. “Other students have completed their internships in the service field at facilities such as Centre County Children and Youth Services, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County, and the Transforming the Lives of Children Research and Treatment Center at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, which provides mental health interventions for children and families dealing with child maltreatment.” The minor is open to any Penn State student who is enrolled at the University Park campus and who has declared a major field of study. For more information, go to the CMAS Minor page or contact Cheri McConnell, Child Maltreatment Solutions Network Education Coordinator, at The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network advances Penn State’s academic mission of teaching, research, and engagement in the area of child maltreatment. It is part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.

Brown School of Social Work
Summer Training Institute for Early Career or Transitioning Scholars
Nov 9, 2018

Building a Multidisciplinary Pipeline of Researchers in Child Abuse and Neglect: Summer Training Institute for Early Career or Transitioning Scholars Invitation to Apply for Competitive Trainee Award Rationale: Child abuse and neglect is a significant public health concern in the United States and around the world. According to recent statistics, in fiscal year 2016, there were over three million referrals for some form of child maltreatment. The magnitude of the problem, the devastating short and long term consequences, and the importance of co-occurring contextual factors make this a challenging area of research requiring research from multiple disciplines. Despite the scope, size, and costs associated with child abuse and neglect, however, there is a dearth of scholars trained to conduct research in child abuse and neglect.  As noted in the recent Institute of Medicine (2014) report by the Committee on Child Maltreatment Research, Policy, and Practice for the Next Decade, “Existing research and service system infrastructures are not sufficient for responding to this public health challenge”.  This annual summer training institute is designed to help assure a continued pipeline of researchers interested in advancing science regarding abuse and neglect. This requires an innovative, multi-disciplinary approach that can take into account the multi-determined nature of this public health problem and its multiple and cascading outcomes. Competitively selected trainees will receive awards to attend a week long summer institute. Training activities of the institute will begin prior to the summer and extend beyond the on-site week-long training to include individual follow-up mentoring provided by trainers matched to participants’ interests.  Institute presenters (trainers) represent diverse fields (e.g., anthropology, criminology, genetics, law, medicine, psychology, public health, and social work), methodological expertise, and cultural backgrounds. This project is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and administered through a collaboration of two senior scholars (Drs. Melissa Jonson-Reid from Washington University and Cathy Spatz Widom from John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York). This competitive award will fund 15 early career or transitioning scholars with backgrounds in a variety disciplines, including criminology, economics, law, neuroscience, genetics, medicine, psychology, psychiatry, public health, public policy, social work, or sociology. Applicants need not have expertise in child maltreatment but must have some training related to children’s health and development prior to the summer institute.  Costs of materials, food, lodging, travel, and communication with mentors are provided as part of the award.  The 2019 summer training institute will be held in St Louis, Missouri.  Timeline: October 15, 2018 - January 11, 2019: Applications accepted January 11, 2019: Final due date for applications February 12, 2019: Awardees will be notified and pre-seminar readings will be distributed. May 20- May 25, 2019: 4 1/2 day seminar to be held at Washington University, St Louis June, 2019: Follow-up calls with mentors July 15, 2019: Submission of final draft of brief research proposal (6 pages) August 15, 2019: Trainees receive feedback and suggestions for funding Participant Commitment:  Trainees must be able to attend the on-site training, complete the readings prior to the seminar, and adhere to the timeline for research plans. Eligibility: Applicants must have completed their PhD or MD (or equivalent degree).  Applicants must meet early career scientist criteria [meaning that the scholars must not yet have been a PI on any grant beyond the R03 or R21 (developmental) levels] OR be established researchers who are interested in transitioning to research on child maltreatment but lack methodological training in this area. All participants will be required to have some training related to children’s health or development to serve as a foundation for participation. However, prior training specific to child maltreatment is not needed. Participants must demonstrate an interest in pursuing research relevant to epidemiology (causes and consequences), prevention, or intervention in the area of child maltreatment.  Participants must also indicate how this training will advance them in their chosen careers. For this institute, we will accept up to 15 participants with a minimum of at least four different specialties or disciplines represented.  Applicants from under-represented ethnic/racial groups, persons with disabilities, or persons from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially encouraged to apply. Application Process: Materials need to be submitted by January 11, 2019:  (1) Completed application form (2) A 2-3 page statement of interest describing why this training will be beneficial to you, what work related to child maltreatment, if any, you have done, and a brief rationale for and discussion of a research study you hope to conduct in the future (this latter section will form the foundation for the brief proposal project); (3) Curriculum vitae; and (4) A letter from a senior researcher or administrator at your institution indicating their enthusiasm regarding the anticipated benefits of your participation and the support of the institution for any needed release time in order to participate, as no stipend will be provided.  Applications should be submitted to:  Professor Melissa Jonson-Reid Brown School of Social Work Washington University Summer Training Institute on Child Maltreatment CB 1196, 1 Brookings Drive St Louis, MO 63130 Or electronically by e-mail to: Review Process: Applications will be reviewed by the Summer Training Institute Co-Directors (Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD and Cathy Spatz Widom, PhD). Applications will be rated according to relevance of interest, likelihood to benefit from the training content (i.e., coming from disciplines/training programs not already benefiting from such material), promise as a researcher in this area, and strength of support letter.  We will select up to 15 participants, with an aim of achieving broad diversity in discipline, topical interest and ethnic and experiential backgrounds. Questions can be directed to: Cathy Spatz Widom, PhD  ( Melissa Jonson-Reid, PhD (       B

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