Investigative and Child Advocacy Resources at the Heart of Annual Conference
About 260 child advocates from around Pennsylvania gathered at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus on Wednesday (Sept. 25) to promote the expansion of multidisciplinary investigative teams and child advocacy centers. Penn State's Second Annual Conference on Child Protection and Well-Being aimed to provide information and share expertise in developing these teams and centers specifically in counties that do not have these resources. Speakers specializing in an array of areas — including child abuse investigations and prosecutions — participated in panel discussions that built county-level partnerships and identified consistent protocols for child abuse intervention and investigation. District attorneys, county children and youth administrators, law enforcement and child advocacy center representatives, along with Penn State faculty experts, were present to begin this significant statewide collaboration. “This conference is about building partnerships in every county across the state and setting a foundation for a network of well-connected, well-developed child advocacy centers and multidisciplinary investigative teams,” said Nicholas Jones, Penn State’s executive vice president and provost. Jones, who opened the conference, encouraged the attendees to share experiences and start the conversations that will build vital resources for the children of Pennsylvania. Secretary of the state’s Department of Public Welfare Beverly Mackereth echoed Jones’ statement, and applauded the University for its ongoing commitment to combating child maltreatment. “Today we embark on a partnership with Penn State,” Mackereth said. “Child welfare looks very different than it did 10-20 years ago,” she added. “Thanks to the University’s Network on Child Protection and Well-Being, and our partners at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pennsylvania, I believe we have the makings to be a national leader.” Teresa Huizar, the executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, was the conference’s keynote speaker. The organization is the accrediting body for 750 child advocacy centers across the country, and she shared her expertise in creating and maintaining the centers. Two panel discussions covered the development of teams and centers. Another session began the conversation on identifying model set of standards across Pennsylvania. Every speaker stressed that developing consistent protocols across resources was vital. An important ingredient in pinpointing these best practices and procedures relies heavily on research from Penn State faculty. Lori Frasier, chief of the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and Jennie Noll, professor of human development and family studies, shared with the audience the importance of university-community collaboration to combat child maltreatment. “With the child advocacy center-faculty synergy, we can come up with ideas for new treatments and learn how to communicate with families,” Noll said. “Together we can garner the evidence-base that has the empirical traction to change policy.” Frasier and Noll represent two of at least 12 new faculty that will join the Network over the next three years. The two researchers shared the Network’s vision to improve collaboration with community-based agencies. Noll is the Network director of research and education. “Community-university collaboration looks like this,” Frasier said. “All of us in this room. What we grow here will be of notice to the state, nation and world.” Penn State’s third annual Conference on Child Protection and Well-Being will be held starting May 5, 2014, at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus. It is a two-day conference that will feature the expertise of top researchers in the field. The focus will be on parenting and family processes. Registration will be available early next year.