Network News

The future of foster care conference flyer
Child Maltreatment Solutions Network seeking conference presentation proposals
Mar 21, 2019

The Penn State Child Maltreatment Solutions Network is seeking proposals for presentations at its 2019 conference, which will be held Sept 23-24 at the Nittany Lion Inn at University Park. The title of this year’s conference is “The Future of Foster Care: New Science on Old Problems.”

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.

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