January, 2012

The Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children

Just before the start of the new year, the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children (PSHCPC) was created to advance Penn State's efforts to address the devastating problem of child abuse and to provide infrastructure for expanding our work in this vital area. Creating an alliance of clinicians, scientists, legal scholars and educators focused on improving the detection, treatment, and prevention of child abuse, this new Center will advance our vision to become a national leader in child abuse clinical care, research, education, and policy. By locating the Center within Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, we will be able to collaborate and complement, rather than duplicate, the efforts of existing agencies and programs in our region and across the Commonwealth.

Our vision for the Center is to encompass all aspects of our Medical Center's mission: patient care, research, education, and service to the community. In order to assure its success, the Center is overseen by a multidisciplinary advisory board including representatives from Penn State Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Health and Human Development at University Park, and Penn State Dickinson School of Law. Since the Center is based within Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, the Children's Hospital leadership will also provide supervision of the Center's activities and ensure coordination with other Children's Hospital programs, including those that address aspects of child maltreatment.

We are fortunate that Andrea Taroli, M.D., Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, has agreed to serve as the inaugural director of the Center. Dr. Taroli is one of fewer than 200 board certified child abuse pediatricians in the nation; as the lead physician on Penn State Hershey's Child Safety Team since August 2011, Dr. Taroli has built on the expertise developed in her 13 years as medical director for child advocacy centers, leading the work of physicians, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals dedicated to protecting the health and safety of children. The services currently provided by the Team include comprehensive medical and psychosocial assessments of alleged victims of abuse, both as inpatients and outpatients, and of all infants and toddlers with serious or life-threatening injuries. Through a comprehensive community-based approach, the Team works with outside agencies to provide resources, support, intervention and protection for victims.

We believe that the new Center can build upon this strong foundation and expand the scope of clinical services for the comprehensive medical diagnosis and treatment of abused and maltreated children. To date, the Center has already identified some priority initiatives to address the problem of child abuse and the needs of victims. Because foster children are at higher risk for medical, psychological and developmental problems, including those arising from abuse and neglect, the Center will establish a primary care clinic for foster children. This clinic will serve as a "medical home" for these children, providing comprehensive medical, developmental and mental health services and ensuring greater continuity of care. The Center will develop this new service in collaboration with other stakeholders in central Pennsylvania, such as the Milton Hershey School, who serve foster children and other at-risk children. Recognizing that the effects of abuse and other traumatic childhood experiences often have lifelong consequences, the Center will also develop a child traumatic stress treatment center.

While providing treatment for victims is vital, we recognize that early intervention, prevention and advocacy are essential to reducing the terrible toll of child abuse. Working in partnership with other organizations and community resources, the Center plans to expand victim advocacy services available in our region. With Penn State Dickinson School of Law, which has a long track record of representing abused and neglected children, the PSHCPC will establish a Medical-Legal Partnership program to evaluate the medical and legal needs of abused children treated at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and enable the Children's Advocacy Law Clinic to offer services to a greater number of abused children. We are also looking at opportunities to work with state agencies where the Center will serve as a pilot for the formation of regional child abuse diagnostic and treatment centers, a model that would give children across the Commonwealth access to state-of-the-art investigation, intervention, and treatment of abuse.

Since we are an academic health center it is essential that education also be a central aspect of the Center's work. Priorities include education for health care professionals and other professionals with a duty to report child abuse, as well as for parents and the public as a whole. The Center's professional team will provide community education programs on the prevention, recognition, and reporting of child abuse, complementing programs that are already well-established, such as the Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Program led by Dr. Mark Dias, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Public Welfare. So that we may better prepare health care professionals to identify and intervene appropriately in cases of child abuse, as well as provide treatment to victims, the Center will enhance our existing curricula for medical students and residents to include more robust exposure to the immediate treatment and long-term effects of child abuse. The Center in collaboration with Penn State Dickinson School of Law will host an annual symposium on child sexual abuse; planning for the inaugural symposium is already underway. Finally, an important educational initiative is the development of a new fellowship in Child Abuse Pediatrics, which will increase the number of experts working in this important subspecialty. As of 2011, there were only 12 such accredited programs in the nation; we recognize that the need is much greater, and a new fellowship program at Penn State Hershey Medical Center can help address that need.

State-of-the-art treatment, advocacy and education require cutting-edge research. With this in mind and building on our expertise in public health sciences and in coordinating multi-center clinical studies, the Center will work to create a statewide data resource that can be used for demographic, epidemiologic, and outcomes studies of child abuse. Our Medical-Legal Partnership with the Penn State Dickinson School of Law will also form the basis for integrated, interdisciplinary research efforts. Funding is of critical importance, so to encourage broad University-wide participation in research, a new pilot award program to be jointly administered by the Center and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) will support innovative biomedical research related to the detection, prevention, and treatment of child abuse. In addition, members of the Center are serving on President Erickson's Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment to identify ways Penn State can expand the Center's initiatives across the University.

The resources to support the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children come from many sources. We are grateful to President Rod Erickson and Penn State for the commitment of funding. In addition our Medical Center will provide direct and in-kind support. We also appreciate the direct financial contributions, received through our Office of University Development, from many individuals to support the new Center. As we move forward, we hope to be able to raise significant funding for this very important cause.

As we all know too well, abuse and neglect are a reality for far too many children. The new Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children must change that by offering hope and help to victims of abuse and by preventing abuse from happening in the first place. Ending child abuse will not be easy, but we must make that our goal. Children are our future; we must do everything in our power to make their future brighter.

 

Harold L. Paz, M.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Penn State Hershey Medical Center
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, Penn State
Dean, Penn State College of Medicine