Children in the United States are suffering from an unseen epidemic of child abuse daily. Every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made involving 6 million children.[i] More than 5 children a day die at the hands of abuse giving the United States the worst record of all industrialized nations.[ii] More than 90% of abused victims know their abuser.[iii] Child abuse and neglect costs our nation $220 million daily and the United States will pay $80 billion to address child abuse and neglect in 2012. [iv] For every dollar spent on prevention, at least two dollars are saved.[v]
The Sandusky scandal is larger than the improper conduct of university officials; the football team; and the university itself. It represents all victims and is a national epidemic. Current research indicates a decline in abused or neglected children as a result of preventative efforts. According to the Fourth Federal National Incidence Study on Child Maltreatment, there was a 19-percent reduction in child abuse and neglect[vi] and the Crimes Against Children Research Center also reported a 55% decline in physical abuse and 61% decline in sexual abuse between 1990 and 2009 with preventative intervention.[vii]
A wide range of prevention strategies have demonstrated an ability to reduce child abuse and neglect by improving stronger social connections; positive child development; better access to shelter, transportation and nutrition; and improved parenting skills. [viii] However, the current challenge with prevention is creating an institutional infrastructure supporting high quality, evidence-based programs and creating sound partnerships. [ix] The Pennsylvania State University can be a leader in this existing challenge.
In 2009, prevention researchers Daro and Dodge studied community prevention programs and concluded that the case for community prevention is promising. According to Daro and Dodge, building communities that can rally volunteers and engage diverse populations in the community through local business, faith based organizations, educators, first responders and civic groups can have a powerful impact on the community. [x] The Pennsylvania State University currently builds communities and engages it’s citizens and leaders through extension outreach.
As our University struggles to make a wrong right, the public media has offered many opinions and ideas. All of the ideas focus on punishing the football program (NCAA “Death Penalty”, preventing bowl eligibility, removing wins from Joe Paterno, removing Joe Paterno’s statue, etc) but do not focus on a long-term sustainable prevention programming. Their ideas punish students, University faculty, State College residents and local business. They do not focus on the larger picture; prevention and education.
The Pennsylvania State University has the existing infrastructure, “target audience”, community trust and employees to provide the education needed to help prevent child abuse and neglect in 67 counties of Pennsylvania. We also have the opportunity to partner with counties and communities on the national level through the Cooperative Extension Programs at all land grant universities. We can help make this a national priority and be the leaders in prevention of child abuse and neglect.
Penn State University can use an existing evidence based prevention program by leading, training, supporting and funding a national cooperative extension prevention program. The money that would be potentially lost by targeting the football team can be budgeted to fund a preventative program in all extension communities. By doing this we will not directly impact the community of State College, existing student athletes and other programs funded by the football program.
The Pennsylvania State University has the opportunity to help educate the following community figures: a coach, a parent, a child, an educator, a doctor, a nurse, a police officer, a grandparent, another University, everyone and anyone in a community! We have the opportunity to become the lead educator to a problem across our nation. Not only would this be a great public relations strategic plan but also we will help prevent future horrendous crimes against our nation’s children. I strongly urge the current leaders of Penn State University to provide additional funding to Cooperative Extension to support the prevention and education of our community members against childhood abuse and neglect.
Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RD, LDN, Registered Dietitian, The Pennsylvania State University
I am proposing a public relations and educational based solution to the existing situation at the Pennsylvania State University as a current instructor (WB Campus), past Penn State Cooperative Extension Agent (Luzerne County); 1997 Alumni, mother and community member.
“…Ending violence against children is a matter of urgency… To become a high priority, the elimination of violence against children requires strong political leadership and determined advocacy by civil society”.
- World Report on Violence Against Children
[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2010). Child Maltreatment 2009. Available from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can
[ii] United States Government Accountability Office, 2011. Child maltreatment: strengthening national data on child fatalities could aid in prevention (GAO-11-599). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11599.pdf
[iii] Snyder, Howard, N. (2000, July). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: victim, incident, and offender characteristics. Retrieved from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/saycrle.pdf
[iv] Gelles, Richard J., & Perlman, Staci (2012). Estimated Annual Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect. Chicago IL: Prevent Child Abuse America.
[v] Healthy Families America: A Snapshot View, (Chicago, IL: Prevent Child Abuse America, 1999).
[vi] Sedlak, A. J., Mettenburg, J., Basena, M., Petta, I., McPherson, K., Greene, A., . . . (2010). Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.
[vii] Finkelhor, D., Jones, L., & Shattuck, A. (2011). Updated trends in child maltreatment, 2009. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Crimes Against Children Research Center.
[viii] Horton, C. (2003). Protective factors literature review: Early care and education programs and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy. Retrieved from http://strengtheningfamilies.net/images/uploads/pdf_uploads/LiteratureReview. pdf
[ix] Daro, D., & Gelles, R. (1992). Public attitudes and behaviors with respect to child abuse prevention. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7(4), 517-531.
[x] Daro, D., & Dodge, K. (2009). Creating community responsibility for child protection: Possibilities and challenges. Future of Children, 19(2), 67-94.