Penn State

2 years later, Penn State’s $12 million child maltreatment investment is growing

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman talks during a news conference in Harrisburg on Jan. 16, 2015, where he announced that he had reached a settlement with the NCAA to void all Penn State football sanctions.
State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman talks during a news conference in Harrisburg on Jan. 16, 2015, where he announced that he had reached a settlement with the NCAA to void all Penn State football sanctions. Centre Daily Times, file

Penn State wants to focus on fixing child abuse.

On Jan. 16, 2015, the consent decree that established the NCAA’s punishment of the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal crumbled with the settlement of state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman’s lawsuit against the college sports oversight organization.

The 112 stripped Nittany Lion football wins were restored. The restriction on postseason play had been lifted in September 2014 and the handcuffed athletic scholarships were already set to be lifted for the 2015 season.

Just one significant issue remained: the $60 million fine at the heart of the lawsuit. Corman wanted it to benefit Pennsylvanian victims of assault while the NCAA didn’t want that restriction. With the settlement, that money was the only thing still on the table, and both sides could claim a victory.

Corman wanted that money to go to help Keystone State victims, and $48 million would go to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to do just that.

“PCCD has and will continue to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse are getting the services they need,” said then-PCCD chairman, now state Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro in December as he announced more than $1.7 million in funding from the endowment created by that money. The grants went to 36 state groups, including 21 child advocacy centers that work with young victims.

The other $12 million stayed at Penn State, but with a mission “to create an endowment that will be a long-term investment in expanding our research, education and public service programs to help eradicate child sexual abuse,” according to the university’s press release.

That is happening by putting the money into a new web of interconnectivity between different colleges with a related emphasis on helping kids. Penn State formed the Network for Child Protection and Well-Being after the Sandusky scandal broke, committing in 2013 to hiring a dozen new faculty.

As a university, we determined early on to make a positive difference by using our resources of teaching, research and service to raise awareness around childhood maltreatment.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers

“As a university, we determined early on to make a positive difference by using our resources of teaching, research and service to raise awareness around childhood maltreatment,” said Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers.

One of those positive differences recently made was renaming the group to redefine the focus: the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.

“The work of the network and the idea behind the initial investment was to make a positive change in the lives of all of those vulnerable kids. and Penn State is now definitely and unarguably part of the solution, “ said director Jennie Noll, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies.

Nine of the 12 positions have been filled, including faculty in five colleges: health and human development, education, nursing, liberal arts and medicine.

“All of these are now looking at solving the complex problems of child maltreatment through all these lenses,” Noll said.

The next step is looking at spreading the education. Penn State now offers a minor in child maltreatment and advocacy studies.

“This is a unique education opportunity at the undergraduate level to educate and inspire the next generation of those who will devote their careers to researching, advocating for and treating those who have been abused,” Noll said.

There is also the annual conference, a book series and awareness events. Several faculty have secured grants from the National Institutes for Health and the U.S. Department of Justice, stretching the funding even further.

“In the past five years, Penn State has ... invested in the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and we will continue to do so. We have elevated the conversation and action both within Pennsylvania and nationally on the serious need for attention on this issue,” Powers said.

That’s something Noll credits to both the settlement funds and the university’s first steps.

“The investment in the cluster hire and the resources that have come back through the Jake Corman legislation have allowed the infrastructure to flourish beyond the initial investments,” she said. “The endowment now coming back allows us to have the pilot funding, the education focus, a sustainability that would not have been possible without the initial investment.”

The network, she said, is growing to help kids and families in more and more ways. This year’s conference will focus on trauma and post-traumatic stress impact on well-being, partnering with the university’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. The network is also working with the state Department of Human Services.

“It’s about the science, about how science can change lives. Not about changing the way people think about the university. It’s about how science can leverage change,” Noll said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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