Penn State senior Rachel Brettler, who is majoring in biobehavioral health and minoring in human development and family studies, is being mentored by renowned faculty experts, as well as gaining real-world research experience, through her role as an undergraduate research assistant in the multiyear Child Health Study. The Child Health Study is a five-year longitudinal research project being conducted in the Center for Healthy Children, where researchers are studying Pennsylvania children ages 8-13 who are victims of abuse. Led by Jennie Noll, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Children, the Child Health Study seeks to uncover the implications of child maltreatment as it relates to a child’s health and development. The data collected will be used to develop and implement various interventions for the prevention and treatment of child maltreatment and abuse. Undergraduate students like Brettler, along with graduate students, have the opportunity to work under guidance from experts like Noll, getting experience that helps prepare them for careers. Certain victims of abuse who are open to talking about their experiences are invited to the center for interviews and clinical tests under strict privacy guidelines. Brettler aids in the process of helping connect these individuals with the center. “My role this past summer as an undergraduate research assistant has been to recruit participants and help work with the child participants and their caregivers to collect data,” she said. The study involves interviews, health screenings, monitoring, and education about emotional and behavioral well-being, as well as physical health and well-being. Brettler said this research experience has required her to use and develop skills from both her major and minor; from biobehavioral health in the areas of medical data collection and public health, and from human development and family studies by examining a child’s transition to adolescence and adulthood, and how he or she fits into society and the community. “Through my coursework I have studied a lot about the fundamentals and theories behind child maltreatment,” Brettler said. “Meeting people who have been through it is quite interesting. There are a lot of untold stories out there. Through my work I get to put a face to the data and build a more complete picture of a child’s life, and how that child’s health might be affected by what he or she has been through.” Brettler said the support she has received from faculty and staff throughout her research experience has helped her to grow, both personally and professionally. “I feel encouraged and appreciated for the work I do, and feel that I've been given the autonomy and responsibility to challenge myself,” she said. “Overall, this experience has shown me why Penn State is consistently ranked among the best for public research -- we care about the work we're doing and the people involved in our projects.” Brettler was able to be involved in the project through a College of Health and Human Development Smith Endowment. She was one of many students in the college to receive funding to support research projects. The Center for Healthy Children is the first national center for child maltreatment research. For more information visit childhealthstudy.psu.edu.
Almost 10 million older adults in the U.S. have cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s Disease, or other related dementias. Penn State researchers are looking into how early life adversity, specifically child maltreatment, can affect cognitive aging later in life in a new project. According to Chad Shenk, associate professor of human development and family studies and principal investigator on the project, early life adversity affects two-thirds of all children in the U.S. “We know there’s an inverse relation between exposure to early life adversity and the acquisition of cognitive abilities from childhood to adulthood," said Shenk. "What we don’t know is whether early life adversity accelerates cognitive aging and decline at mid-life, prior to the onset of cognitive impairment, and whether there are unique biomarkers in this situation that could aid in the detection and even prevention of late-life cognitive outcomes.” Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the four-year project will study over 2,900 adults across the U.S., Canada, and Germany to test and replicate findings on the effects of early life adversity on cognitive aging. Shenk, who also is a co-hire of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and his team will explore the link between child maltreatment and cognitive aging, focusing on stress-mediating variables. “We will examine epigenetic age, a measure of the biological age of human tissues and cells, as a stress-sensitive biomarker of early life adversity that predicts impairments in cognitive function at mid-life,” Shenk explained. “Establishing epigenetic age as a biomarker of early life adversity and cognitive aging at mid-life may aid in detecting, delaying or even preventing cognitive decline and impairment in later life.” According to Shenk, this project will also focus on identifying the mediators of epigenetic aging following early life adversity. “By examining the multiple pathways leading to accelerations in epigenetic aging," said Shenk, "this project has the potential to identify targets for prevention even prior to mid-life in order to further reduce this risk." Another goal of the project is to make the results replicable across international cohorts that include diverse demographics. “This study is the first to prospectively examine the biological impact of early life adversity and cognitive function at mid-life. Replication of results is very important to future cognitive function studies,” said Shenk. Other researchers on the project include Martin Sliwinski, professor and director of the Center for Healthy Aging; Nilam Ram, professor of human development and family studies; Jennie Noll, professor and director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network; Kieran O’Donnell, assistant professor at The Douglas Hospital Research Center, McGill University; Michael Meaney, James McGill Professor, McGill University; and Elisabeth Binder, director of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. Seed funding was provided by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.
Children who suffer childhood sexual abuse early are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, adolescent pregnancy, and teenage motherhood, according to new Penn State research. The findings are important, because becoming a mother during adolescence can have consequences for not only the mother, but her child, said Jennie Noll, professor of human development and family studies, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and co-funded faculty member of the Social Science Research Institute. “Adolescents typically do not possess the psychological and emotional tools necessary to excel at the additional demands and responsibilities required to parent a child.” The National Institutes of Health-funded research allowed Noll and her team to track a sample of adolescent females aged 14–17 with and without a documented history of maltreatment longitudinally through age 19. They examined the three distinct outcomes — high‐risk sexual behaviors, adolescent pregnancy and adolescent motherhood — because not every adolescent who engages in risky sexual activity becomes pregnant, and not every pregnancy results in an adolescent becoming a mother. “Because of its explicit sexual nature, we wanted to see if sexual abuse conferred unique risk for these outcomes as compared to other environmental factors, including alternative forms of child maltreatment such as physical abuse and neglect,” Noll explained. “This has never been tested before because it is rare to have a data set that differentiates between the different types of maltreatment on differing outcomes.” The results showed that sexual abuse predicted sexual risk-taking over time and that these kids were more than twice as likely to become teen mothers compared to other kids. Sexually abused females were also more likely to use substances, report more externalizing behaviors, affiliate with risky peers, and have lower self‐esteem, lower cognitive abilities and higher depression symptoms. However, even after these potential confounding factors were controlled, sexual abuse was the strongest predictor of teen motherhood. “This suggests that there is something highly unique about the sexual trauma of childhood sexual abuse that increases the chances for subsequent risky sexual behaviors,” said Noll. “Our findings demonstrate that all types of abuse and trauma are not equal. Survivors of sexual abuse likely require specialized treatment that can help them deal with the sexual boundary violations, stigma and shame associated with sexual abuse. Given that there are over 50,000 new sexual-abuse cases per year in the U.S., such targeted interventions will likely have a substantial impact on national adolescent motherhood rates as well.” The study was published recently in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. Other Social Science Research Institute co-funded faculty members on the project were Hannah Schreier, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, and Sarah Font, assistant professor of sociology. Additional researchers were Kate Guastaferro, assistant research professor at Penn State; Sarah Beal, assistant research professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Jaclyn Barnes, clinical research coordinator at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; and Jonathan Reader, pre-doctoral trainee at Penn State. The work was supported in part by grants awarded Noll by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, both of the National Institutes of Health. Guastaferro and Reader were supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.
Penn State isn’t just a leader on childhood well-being through its Child Maltreatment Solutions Network — but is pushing others to be leaders, too. “One of our charges is to bring together experts related to child maltreatment to think more broadly about how to address key issues facing children today,” said Christian Connell, Penn State professor of human development and family studies and associate director of the Solutions Network. “Through our annual conference, Penn State is playing a key role in engaging researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to inform best practices and policies at the county, state and national level.” The Solutions Network's seventh annual network conference focuses on “Strengthening Child Safety and Wellbeing through Integrated Data Solutions,” and will feature nationally and internationally recognized experts in the field of child maltreatment. To be held on Sept. 27 and 28 at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus, the conference is open to researchers, policy makers, child welfare professionals and members of the public interested in learning about the future of data-driven innovations in improving children’s lives. Interested attendees are asked to register online. This year’s theme of “integrated data solutions” will explore how researchers, child welfare professionals and public policy makers can best utilize administrative data systems — such as the data gathered by child service caseworkers, healthcare providers and other public systems — to better understand the needs of at-risk children, and craft laws and policies that reflect the reality of child maltreatment in America. “We can learn a lot about the needs of children and families by pulling together information from the child welfare system and health care settings — including physical and mental health, the educational sector, and other types of child serving systems,” Connell said. “No one system gathers all this information, but more and more we have the computing power and analytic capacity to bring all this information together to better understand the complex needs of families and children.” The conference will feature sessions from leading experts in the field of child maltreatment and welfare, including Penn State Professor and Solutions Network Director Jennie Noll; University of Southern California Professor Emily Putnam-Hornstein; University of Washington Professor Melissa Jonson-Reid; and University of Chicago Professor Fred Wulczyn. Topics will include leveraging administrative data to understand the scope and impact of maltreatment, identify effective interventions for child welfare, inform public policy, and system reform; and developing priorities and action steps to advance these efforts at a national level. “Through this network and this conference, we are making Penn State a national resource on this topic,” Connell said. “We have put together an amazing line-up of presenters and speakers with expertise in the use of data to inform child safety and well-being. The conference is geared toward collaborative conversation and problem-solving, making this a unique opportunity to engage with experts on these critical issues.” The conference is supported by sponsors across the University, including the Department of Public Health Sciences; the Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center; the Social Science Research Institute; the Child Study Center; the University Libraries; the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education; the Department of Biobehavioral Health; the College of Nursing; the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness; the Institute for CyberScience; and the College of Information Sciences and Technology.
A new initiative spearheaded by Penn State researchers is aiming to revolutionize how policymakers understand and prevent child sexual abuse. The Safe and Healthy Communities Initiative officially kicked off Wednesday at the York County Children’s Advocacy Center, which marks the beginning of a series of two-year pilot programs in five Pennsylvania counties to advance a comprehensive approach to sexual abuse prevention. The initiative is a partnership between Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and Center for Healthy Children, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Pennsylvania Office of Children, Youth and Families. These partners will work together to pilot three evidence-based, data-driven programs: “Stewards of Children,” which educates community members about spotting signs of sexual abuse and how to act if they suspect abuse. “Safe Touches,” which educates children about the difference between safe and non-safe touches and that abuse is not a child’s fault. A parent-focused program teaching parents about sexual abuse and healthy sexual development and how to recognize signs of abuse and potentially exploitative individuals. The goal ultimately is to use the results from these pilot programs to develop a comprehensive and sustainable model for abuse prevention that can be adopted not just across Pennsylvanian counties, but across the nation. “The programs that we’re using have been shown to be evidence-based and effective in changing knowledge and attitudes about sexual abuse,” said Jennie Noll, a Penn State professor and director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network. “But this is the first time that they will be studied in the context of actually changing rates of sexual abuse. This is the first such trial to track actual rates of sexual abuse through county and state administrative data systems. It is the largest effort of its kind that we’re aware of.” Noll said this new initiative is unique in the field of child maltreatment research for several reasons: its comprehensive approach to data collection and review, its combination of proven evidence-based programs, and its partnerships between Penn State researchers and state government offices. She expects the programs to reach over 71,000 adults and 17,000 children over the next two years. Noll said that the initiative grew out of the grant that helped establish the Center for Healthy Children and is funded through the Endowment Act to aid survivors of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. The pilots will be coordinated by Kate Guastaferro, a Penn State research professor with the Methodology Center, and Kathleen Zadzora, a Penn State research project manager with the College of Health and Human Development. Seed funding for the project was provided by Penn State's Social Science Research Institute. “Our goal is to not only demonstrate that these evidence-based programs work, but to create a sustainable approach to abuse prevention that we hope that the Commonwealth, and ultimately other states, will be able to adopt and put to use,” Noll said.
The Children’s Bureau’s Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (CB/OCAN) within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is pleased to announce the 21st National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), which will be held April 24-26, 2019, at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel in Washington, D.C. The 21st NCCAN offers a unique opportunity to come together for leadership and action- oriented dialogue around creating a continuum of supports to ensure that we are a nation of "Strong and Thriving Families"—the theme of this year’s conference. The Children’s Bureau is committed to advancing national efforts that strengthen the capacity of families to nurture and provide for the well-being of their children. At the 21st NCCAN, child welfare staff, child maltreatment prevention partners, the legal and judicial community, parents, foster care alumni, child and family serving professionals, and community members will explore strategies for making this vision of strong and thriving families a reality. To achieve CB/OCAN’s vision, the 21st NCCAN will offer diverse sessions addressing current approaches, policies, strategies, programs, and practices in the following five target areas: 1 Prioritize Prevention Nurturing and safe family relationships are key to child well-being. Prioritizing families and focusing on primary prevention, through flexible funding and community-based services that strengthen the protective capacities of all parents, will help children and their families thrive. We must also focus our interventions in ways that prevent unnecessary placements, keep children in their communities and schools, and build family strengths as a primary intervention. This track explores a variety of topics related to primary prevention, in-home services, family engagement, and other service innovations intended to support families and keep children with their families. 2 Focus on Well-Being We should ensure that our interventions support the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of all children and families. This track explores a wide variety of topics relevant to the social, educational, economic, behavioral, cognitive, and relational well-being of children and families. We particularly welcome sessions focused on measuring well-being, addressing trauma, strengthening protective factors, and building resilience. 3 Reshape Foster Care as a Support for Families Engagement with the child welfare system should have positive impacts on children and families—equipping parents and caregivers with enhanced protective factors, skills, and supports to safely care for their children and improve child well-being. Even when parents are unable to keep their children safe at home, children need to feel connected to their parents, siblings, and relatives. Parents should remain actively involved with their children in foster care in safe and healthy ways, with foster and birth families working together to support children and ensure successful reunification whenever possible. This track explores innovations in child welfare practice with a special emphasis on efforts that keep families meaningfully engaged and connected, even when out-of-home care is necessary. We welcome sessions highlighting approaches that promote the active involvement of parents in their children’s lives while in out-of-home care, promote healthy relationships between birth and foster parents, provide timely and successful reunification, address kinship care, and avoid unnecessary family separation and trauma. 4 Build Community Capacity Primary prevention of maltreatment and a focus on well-being occur best in the communities where children and families live, and cannot be the work of child welfare alone. A wide array of stakeholders and systems must work together, guided by the communities they serve, to build programs and systems that get needed supports to families where they are and when they need it. This track explores ideas and initiatives for leveraging diverse community-based partnerships to better serve children and families. We especially invite proposals related to reaching rural communities, engaging non-traditional partners, and moving beyond traditional services. 5 Support the Workforce To serve families well, we must have a strong, competent, and healthy workforce. An effective child welfare system requires social workers, attorneys, and service providers to have adequate supports and supervision, manageable workloads, and the skills needed to do their work well. Inspire, competent leadership can garner the support of community partners, staff, and families on the path to meaningful and sustained improvement. This track explores ideas and initiatives for supporting the child welfare workforce in ways that enhance their effectiveness and ensure their well-being. We especially invite proposals related to addressing secondary traumatic stress, creating a safe and supportive organizational culture, and reducing staff turnover. For more information and to submit an abstract, go to the NCCAN21 Call for Abstracts website. Deadline for submissions is July 3.
Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, has been invited to serve as a member of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Strategic Planning Working Group. Noll’s role as part of the prestigious group will be to develop a new strategic plan for NICHD for the first time in 18 years and identify scientific priorities for the institute’s efforts and contribution to the health of children, families, and communities across the nation. The new strategic plan will help develop scientific priorities, ensure that resources are appropriately aligned with those priorities, and identify the training, career development and partnership opportunities needed to maximize NICHD's contribution to the health of children, families, and communities. The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network advances Penn State’s academic mission of teaching, research, and engagement in the area of child maltreatment. Since the Solutions Network was launched in Fall 2012, its conferences have established a concrete frontier of understanding child maltreatment through advanced research. It is part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.
Child maltreatment is a public health problem that impacts over 3.5 million youth each year who are involved in child protective service investigations or other responses. Society is also negatively impacted by the increased use of resources within the health care, education, and the criminal justice systems. Often, government agencies and public systems run into challenges when trying to identify and assess maltreatment and provide intervention and treatment services. To address this issue, Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network will hold their seventh annual conference, “Strengthening Child Safety and Wellbeing through Integrated Data Solutions," Sept. 27 to 28, at the Nittany Lion Inn, University Park, Pennsylvania. The conference will promote the discussion and consideration of new methods of using data to improve the response to child maltreatment. “Over the last decade, there has been substantial growth and innovation in technology used by the child welfare system, and this technology is made up of large datasets which are crucial for the identification of child maltreatment risks and consequences as well as improve community targeting and reaction to these challenges,” noted Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and professor of human development and family studies, regarding the developments in the child welfare system. The conference will bring together researchers and other professionals to discuss new, advanced methods such as the use of data from across different systems to conduct predictive analytics, risk monitoring, and policy and program-focused research and evaluation as a way to improve child welfare system solutions. Three sessions will address the use of integrative data to predict the occurrence of child maltreatment and negative outcomes in maltreated youth, and target effective and efficient implementation of services. Concluding the event will be a panel discussion formed by several speakers to engage the audience and consider collaborative data sharing, analytic approaches to predict maltreatment and outcomes, and how these can impact policies and programs. For more information about the conference, visit http://solutionsnetwork.psu.edu/conf18 and click here to register. The Child Maltreatment Solutions Network advances Penn State’s academic mission of teaching, research, and engagement in the area of child maltreatment. Since the Solutions Network was launched in Fall 2012, its conferences have established a concrete frontier of understanding child maltreatment through advanced research. It is part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State.
Dr. Lori Frasier, director of the Center for the Protection of Children at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, has been honored for her contributions to the field of child abuse pediatrics with the Helfer Society Award. Frasier received the award at the society’s annual meeting and awards dinner on April 22 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Ray E. Helfer Society is an international organization dedicated to treating and preventing child abuse. Frasier’s professional accomplishments include: Current director of Child Abuse Pediatrics Fellowship program at Penn State Children’s Hospital Medical director of Penn State's Child Maltreatment Solutions Network Former chair of the American Academic of Pediatrics Section on Child Abuse and Neglect Executive Committee Past and current advisory board member for multiple county, state, national, federal agencies, organizations and task forces addressing child maltreatment “Dr. Frasier’s numerous and diverse accomplishments are a testament to her unfailing and selfless commitment to teaching, to advancing the science of our new subspecialty, and to victims of child maltreatment worldwide,” said Dr. Kent Hymel, a past president of the Helfer Society and a pediatrician at Penn State Children’s Hospital. “I would argue that she has done more than anyone among us to advance an understanding of child abuse pediatrics around the globe.” “It’s a tremendous honor to get this award because I have been a member of the society since it was established in 2000 and have a great deal of respect for its work,” Frasier said. “I am currently vice president and president-elect but have worked on many committees for the benefit of the society.” Frasier earned her doctor of medicine degree at the University of Utah School of Medicine before completing her residency in pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. She completed her fellowship in child abuse pediatrics at the University of Washington, Harborview Medical Center and has been with the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center since 2013.
When the Penn State College of Nursing launched the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center in 2016, it envisioned a solution to enhance access to compassionate sexual assault care in underserved communities. What they still needed: a plan to sustain the center’s operations beyond the initial funding period. With support from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, the SAFE-T Center started a virtual training lab for rural nurses and began planning a pilot study including four hospital sites that would become part of a statewide partnership model. “This partnership provides communities with expertise and support that can ultimately improve care for victims of assault,” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator with the SAFE-T Center. “It is imperative that we be able to sustain valued services in our partner communities. We needed a proactive plan to prepare to scale in order to sustain this work.” Miyamoto approached David Lenze, director of the Applied Professional Experience (APEX) program in the Smeal College of Business, to discuss options for getting help with developing a sustainable business plan. Lenze’s idea: to make the SAFE-T Center one of the capstone projects for Smeal’s Sapphire Leadership Academic Program, a leadership development program for high-achieving Smeal students who want to enhance their academic experience. “Sapphire provides a richer, more robust experience for a select group of students,” said Lenze, an instructor in management and organization at Smeal. “While all students at Smeal are required to complete a capstone course during their final year, the APEX practicum was created specifically for the Sapphire students, to give them an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills from their course work to real-world problems.” For the APEX capstone, Sapphire students work in teams to address a business challenge faced by a real organization. Under Lenze’s supervision, the teams take advantage of the wide variety of resources at Penn State — from its renowned faculty to its vast alumni network and library system — to conduct a competitive analysis and provide clear, actionable recommendations. The team assigned to the SAFE-T Center included two finance majors, John George and Hailey Kaunert; a marketing major, Sami Evans; and a supply chain and iInformation systems major, Erika Veiszlemlein. In addition to the cross-functional expertise of the Smeal students, Miyamoto and Lenze felt the team would benefit from the perspective of someone who understood nursing culture. They invited Liz Ruta, a senior nursing student, to join them. Ruta, who had previously taken Miyamoto’s course in child maltreatment and advocacy studies, felt the Sapphire project was an ideal opportunity to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team. “It got me out of my comfort zone and helped me see an issue from a different perspective,” she said. “And I liked that it was very community oriented.” In addition to earning independent study credits, Ruta used the project to complete clinical hours for the Community Health Nursing course taught by Beth Cutezo, assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing. “Liz played a key role in lending her expertise to the project, which helped her prepare for the real world of practice,” Cutezo said. “And collaborating with other professional disciplines as part of a goal-oriented team enriched her learning.” Ruta took part in nursing-specific aspects of the project, such as attending a two-day orientation and training for virtual teleforensic nurses (VTNs) who would provide actual patient services. Overall, the team had weekly interactions with SAFE-T Center staff and stakeholders to collaboratively address the challenges they faced. The culmination of the project was a 20-page business plan that the team presented to the SAFE-T Center’s statewide advisory board during its biannual meeting April 17. The plan featured a thorough analysis of the center’s needs and goals, its value drivers and cost structure, and a detailed proposal for funding sources, payment options and organizational partnerships. “We are confident our products and services bring value to many stakeholders, including patients, providers, society, law enforcement and government,” the team concluded. “The long-term sustainability of our program depends on our ability to secure financial stability from various funding sources.” Miyamoto felt the team’s effort was “exceedingly professional” and helped the staff and board conceptualize what would be needed to sustain its operations on an annual basis. “They answered some of the board members’ questions and addressed the next steps for the SAFE-T Center,” she said. “They sought feedback and really drove the process.” Lenze, for his part, felt the inclusion of a non-business student was a great enhancement to the APEX experience. “In their future careers, all of our students will need to work effectively in cross-functional teams. This project gave them the opportunity to do just that,” he said. “We hope to build on the project’s success and create more intercollege experiential collaborations in the future.”