UNIVERSITY PARK — As Penn State prepares to host thousands of children at its summer camps and the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, the university has implemented a new training program for all of its employees who regularly encounter kids as part of their jobs.
Overseen by Penn State’s Office of Human Resources, almost 2,000 university staffers have attended the two-hour-long course. It was crafted in response to the allegations Jerry Sandusky sexually abused boys on university grounds. The course, designed in coordination with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, university police and the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, gives participants guidelines for spotting and responding to abuse.
“This training empowers Penn State employees,” said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers. “Hopefully, now that they know how to respond, they’ll feel more obligated to do something if they see something.”
Penn State is also in the process of updating its policies on the reporting of child abuse. In April, it updated Administrative Policy 39, which gave “authorized adult” status to employees who work with minors but who don’t qualify as mandated reporters under state law. Authorized adults are required to undergo background checks, self-disclose any arrests in their past and attend a special training session on child abuse. The policy will affect about 8,000 employees.
In the next few days, the university is also expected to approve Administrative Policy 72, which sets in place specific protocols for those who witness child abuse or suspect a child is being abused. Under the new policy, any mandated reporter on any of Penn State’s campuses is required to report abuse to ChildLine, a 24- hour hotline operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
Authorized adults who witness or suspect abuse also have to contact their superiors. Together, they are mandated to contact ChildLine, university police, and Penn State’s general counsel and the university’s risk management department.
At a session Tuesday, trainers Susan Cromwell, with human resources, and Betsy VanNoy, from the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, reviewed Pennsylvania’s child protective services law, university policies, and the signs and consequences of child abuse.
“We want you to be confident you did the right thing,” VanNoy told the 16 Penn State employees attending the training.
The staff members were told to watch out for signs of physical abuse, such as serious, unexplained physical injuries like burns or bruises, or evidence of physical neglect, including persistent hunger, consistently soiled clothing or delays in physical development.
Sexual abuse is harder to spot, VanNoy said. In addition, children are likely to be reluctant to share their experiences of abuse, perhaps because they’ve been warned not to by their abuser, or because they’re afraid it could create further problems in their lives. Children might also fear they won’t be believed or that it will result in social isolation. Or they might not be aware that engaging in a sexual act with an adult is inappropriate.
“If you have a gut feeling or see more than one red flag, you need to report,” VanNoy said. “By reporting, you’ve done the right thing. I personally can’t imagine anything worse than a child in an abusive situation not being helped.”
Penn State’s policy updates are in line with a review of Pennsylvania law that will likely tighten existing reporting standards.
“Your role is to report suspected abuse,” she said. “Others will be in charge of collecting information and doing the investigation.”
Cliff White can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @CliffWhiteNews