the country will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Many victims stay silent about their abuse, resulting in scars that could last a lifetime as well as injuries that could be passed on to the next generation. “Child abuse has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as a major public health concern,” says Dr. Benjamin H. Levi, director of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children. “Yet Pennsylvania has one of the lowest rates in the nation for reporting and identifying child abuse.” Fortunately, in light of recent reports, the laws against child abuse are changing in our state. Levi says there is emerging legislation that will update “in a good way” what qualifies as abuse and how it’s reported. Levi will be joined at the new center by a clinical child-protection team that includes one child-abuse specialist, two pediatricians who have completed specialized post-graduate training in child protection, and a social worker. The larger team of specialists includes physicians and nurses in pediatric surgery, neurosurgery, critical care, neurology, psychiatry, pulmonary ophthalmology, and other fields. The center is also in the process of recruiting a clinical psychologist and an additional board-certified child-abuse specialist.
“When treating children who have been abused, it is critical to treat the whole child, which includes addressing their psychological and social needs, in addition to their physical injuries and developmental concerns,” says Levi. “Because each child is unique, their treatment plan is developed specifically around their individual needs.” The center’s plans include expanding its clinical outreach by developing an outpatient clinic that will serve as the medical home for children who have been abused and placed in foster care. Additionally, the center is developing an eLearning module for school personnel on how to become a responsible mandated reporter. It includes a variety of research and outreach initiatives that focus on the prevention of child abuse, as well as sharpens its ability to accurately identify and report suspected abuse. One of the center’s challenges, Levi says, is educating people on the frontlines—teachers, healthcare professionals, and others working with children—to be aware and vigilant without overreacting, to understand the prevalence of child abuse and what their role is in the protection of children. “We don’t expect anyone to become an expert on child abuse,” Levi says, “but to be a good citizen.”
“When treating children who have been abused, it is critical to treat the whole child.”
Published on Oct 18, 2012