Although Penn State is already equipped with an extensive building of research and practice in the area of child behavior, the university intends to hire new faculty — experts in the area of child maltreatment — to assume an even greater role in this field.
This comes as an extended effort housed under the Network for Child Protection and Well-Being, said Professor of Human Development Susan McHale.
McHale, who chairs the network and directs the Social Science Research Institute as well as the Children, Youth and Families Consortium, said she and some colleagues were commissioned last spring to develop a proposal for an integrated academic response to the “Sandusky tragedy.”
Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football defensive coordinator, was found guilty of 45 counts of child sex abuse in June and is now serving a 30 to 60 year prison sentence.
Comprised of 35 faculty members from all around the university, the Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment, as it is called, convened to discuss how to build on the existing Penn State foundations in the areas of children, youth and family.
The task force saw representatives from the Dickinson School of Law, various University Park colleges and the Hershey Medical Center, she said.
In a statement issued via Penn State Live, President Rodney Erickson said the hiring will take place over the coming three years. “Up to 12 new positions” are expected to be added to the faculty roster, he said.
Although there are numerous members of the faculty who have devoted their careers researching children, youth and their families, there aren’t many who focus explicitly on child maltreatment, McHale said.
She explained the new positions will put the university on course to evolve in an array of fields such as basic science, clinical practice, youth intervention programs and therapy that deal specifically with child maltreatment.
The new hires will be tasked with tackling “key problems we are only beginning to recognize,” McHale added.
Specific occupations that pertain to the faculty additions include but are not limited to child abuse pediatricians, practicing psychologists, researchers that investigate the physiology of trauma, professionals that test intervention in communities aimed to prevent child maltreatment, as well as faculty that will look into related policy.
McHale noted the university is not starting from scratch in this area.
“This is not new. This is not a reaction to Sandusky. It’s always been here,” McHale said.
Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of the Child Study Center Karen Bierman also said child behavior is an area Penn State is known for.
“The adding of the new faculty is just to enable us to really focus expertise in that area, but it’s definitely layering on a long-stemming tradition at Penn State to focus and provide research and excellence in the areas of children, youth and families,” Bierman said.
McHale said another top item on the network’s agenda is to make such work more accessible and visible for the public, as it is an area that has rounded out support university-wide.
“I think that the interest and enthusiasm of faculty all around the university shows the feel of commitment and passion that our faculty have for this cause,” she said.