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Penn State Will Be Home to First National Center for Child Maltreatment Studies

by on April 19, 2017 5:00 AM

Penn State has received a $7.7 million grant to establish the Center for Healthy Children, the first national center for child maltreatment research and training.

The funding comes after a competitive process conducted by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Penn State was selected based on scientific merit, according to the university. Penn State has also committed $3.4 million to the center

Penn State had already created in 2012 the Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, later named the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, to bring together researchers from different fields to solve the problems of child abuse and neglect.

"Maltreatment is a critical issue requiring tangible solutions," said Jennie Noll, the principal investigator of the NIH award, professor of human development and family studies and director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, a unit of Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, in a release. "There needs to be a heightened focus on raising the bar for research in this area so we can develop specific ways to prevent maltreatment and promote health and well-being for survivors. We don't yet have a comprehensive understanding of exactly why maltreatment leads to such dire consequences for some, while others may exhibit remarkable resilience. This is why it is vitally important that we identify the mechanisms involved in these health disparities."

Each year in the United States about 2 million children experience abuse and neglect,which can lead to lifelong mental, emotional and physical issues. More than $124 billion is spent in the U.S. on child maltreatment-related costs.

The new center aims to conduct leading research on child maltreatment that can be used in conjunction with advocates and practitioners to develop new and targeted interventions, practical suggestions and legislative recommendations.

One research project supported by the grant will enlist pediatric intensive care units from across the country for a clinical trial to assess the impact of a screening tool for pediatric abusive head trauma. About 40 percent of child maltreatment deaths are the result of abusive head trauma.

"For the first time in any clinical setting, physicians will apply a recently validated screening tool to guide their decisions to launch or forgo child abuse evaluations in their young, acutely head-injured patients," a university news release said. "By improving the accuracy of these difficult clinical decisions, implementing the screening tool could substantially reduce cases of missed or misdiagnosed abusive head trauma, unnecessary abuse evaluations, abusive re-injury and death."

Another project will invite 1,200 Pennsylvania children to participate in a study focused on eliminating health disparities for children who have had experience in the child welfare system. In another, a team will use the knowledge generated by the center's research to create policy briefs for legislators to understand the consequences of child maltreatment and the need for a public investment in prevention and treatment. That team will work directly with children and youth organizations to address the issues faced by social workers and administrators.

"We recruited the best and the brightest researchers to Penn State to create a network and we continue our commitment to work on this critical issue by contributing $3.4 million in support of the new NIH center,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “The expertise, passion and dedication of our researchers are unparalleled and this grant exemplifies our strength in successful interdisciplinary collaborations, with leading experts from across the University.”





Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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