Child abuse has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as a public health concern that causes significant medical and mental health consequences - many of which affect not just children, but also the adults they become.

As part of a larger Penn State project and NIH grant, Penn State Health Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Kent Hymel discusses a clinical trial to test a tool doctors can use to objectively determine if pediatric patients who are admitted to the hospital with head trauma should be evaluated for abuse.

Child Abuse: A growing public health concern

Nearly six million children are reported for suspected child maltreatment each year in the United States.

An average of five children - most of them under the age of four ­- die every day from abuse or neglect.

Estimates indicate that 1 out of every 5 children in the U.S. will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

Sadly, studies show that most victims of sexual abuse do not disclose their mistreatment for at least a year. One-third of all victims never tell anyone about the abuse they have endured. Children who do disclose sexual abuse often are not believed, causing them to suffer both the effects of their abuse and the betrayal of the trust they once held for parents, caregivers or other adults.

The deep, long-lasting scars of maltreatment inevitably change a child’s life trajectory. Victims of abuse are much more likely to develop self-destructive habits and lifestyles, early chronic illness, disability and premature death. They are also more likely to pass their inflicted injuries on to the next generation of victims. The earlier abuse is identified, the greater chance children have to heal and avoid perpetuating this cycle of destructive behavior.

But there is much to be done. Many cases of abuse and neglect go undetected. When investigations do occur, they are often performed by overburdened caseworkers and law enforcement officers. Even the clinicians who step up to evaluate and treat victims of abuse often have insufficient expertise in child maltreatment and in dealing with the aftermath of traumatic stress.

As the region’s only locally based academic medical center, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center is strategically positioned to help fulfill the University’s responsibility to improve the detection, treatment and prevention of child abuse. The Center for the Protection of Children is poised to pioneer an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to addressing the causes and consequences of child maltreatment.

About the Center

The overarching purpose of the Center for the Protection of Children is to develop and coordinate research, education and policy initiatives having to do with child abuse/protection - within Penn State Health, Penn State's broader Network on Child Maltreatment Solutions, as well as with community partners.

The Center for the Protection of Children brings together an interdisciplinary group of Penn State clinicians and researchers who are well-respected for their achievements in the field of child abuse. Based on the campus of the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine, the Center is a remarkable collaborative effort whose goals are to prevent maltreatment, improve reporting of suspected abuse, provide comprehensive care for children who have experienced abuse, and advance knowledge about how best to protect vulnerable children and support them and their families.

As a community of scholars and clinicians, we understand that addressing the problem of child abuse is multifaceted. We must treat children's injuries, provide care and oversight as they recover, and work to ensure that they are protected from further harm. Equally vital are research and education. Effective interventions require an evidence-based understanding of the causes of maltreatment as well as the predictors of good and poor outcomes. So, too, best practices require that everyone who works with children appreciate risk factors for child abuse and what we can do to be effective advocates for vulnerable children throughout our society.

The Center is one of four foundational Centers that make up Penn State's Network on Child Maltreatment Solutions whose purpose is to advance collaborative, multidisciplinary scholarship on child abuse and child protection.

How to help

Give

The University has committed deeply from its own resources to establish the Penn State Health Center for the Protection of Children. But the full scope of its impact can only be realized with the generosity and shared vision of generous supporters like you.

You have a unique opportunity to unite and take action against child abuse. Your financial support is critical to:

  • Enhance clinical services for abused children
  • Educate future health care professionals to better detect and treat abuse
  • Facilitate new initiatives to recognize and report child abuse

Together we can ensure children have a brighter future for many generations to come.

To give online, please visit our secure giving website.

To learn more about specific initiatives you can support to help the Center, please contact:

Kelly A. Altland
Associate Vice President and Chief Development Officer
Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Penn State College of Medicine
717-531-8456

Our Team

Division Chief of Child Abuse Pediatrics, Medical Director

Center for the Protection of Children Faculty and Staff

Transforming the Lives of Children Research and Treatment Center (TLC)

  • Brian Allen, PsyD, Associate Professor, Psychologist Director, Mental Health Services
  • Chad Shenk, PhD, Associate Professor, Psychologist
  • Michell Desir, PhD, Postdoctoral Psychologist
  • Ashley Bucher, MPH, Research Coordinator
  • Elizabeth Riden, LCSW
  • Amy Slenker, LCSW
  • Allison Cobaugh, LSW
  • Kathryn Crowell, MD, clinic for children in out-of-home placement

Child Protection Team