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Children's Advocacy Clinic and Center continue policy and advocacy work on behalf of children


In the wake of the allegations concerning Penn State employees released in the grand jury presentment last week, the Law School community has been struggling along with the rest of the University community and public to come to terms with the horrific details as they emerge. According to Dean Philip McConnaughay, "We feel deep sadness for the children involved, outrage at their alleged treatment, and shame over allegations that members of the University’s administration may have missed opportunities to expose and stop the alleged abuse." Read Dean McConnaughay's message to alumni.

McConnaughay stressed that the Law School has a rich history of public interest and clinical work. "We find some solace during this difficult time in the Law School's longstanding leadership in the representation of abused and neglected children, in our Children’s Advocacy Clinic, in our Center for Immigrants’ Rights, and in our Family Law Clinic," he said.  

"One of the best measures of how we strive to positively impact the lives of children and families is through the work of our Children's Advocacy Clinic," he said. Both the Penn State Law Children's Advocacy Clinic and the Center for Children and the Law under the direction of Professor Lucy Johnston-Walsh continue to advocate on behalf of children.

Johnston-Walsh, who has represented victims of abuse throughout her career, said she especially is outraged that focus has been on the careers of University officials rather than the victims. "It is my deep hope that this situation at least brings to light the fact that child abuse occurs every day, it occurs across all cultures, and all classes. Child abuse can have long term effects. In Pennsylvania last year, there were over 3,000 cases of substantiated child abuse. Child abuse can be happening right beside you. You may not know it, but you may have some idea," she said.

Look Out for Child Abuse

This past summer, Penn State Law together with Penn State College of Medicine, and Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital launched a website that simplifies the process for reporting suspected child abuse cases in Pennsylvania.

The Look Out for Child Abuse website, pennstatehershey.org/childabuse, provides an interactive, free, online program that guides users through the process of completing a CY-47 form – Pennsylvania’s official form for reporting suspected abuse. Throughout the commonwealth, individuals whose professional work brings them into contact with children (teachers, health care providers, daycare workers, etc.) are mandated reporters, who before now have had to locate a CY-47 themselves and complete it by hand.

Look Out for Child Abuse is a statewide resource and the first of its kind in the state: standardizing the language used to describe abuse and helping users compose detailed, easy-to-read reports that can be printed and faxed to the appropriate county Children and Youth agencies. To comply with federal privacy regulations, all personally identifiable data entered into this online program are erased as soon as the user exits the website.

In addition to the interactive CY-47 form, pennstatehershey.org/childabuse includes links to a variety of resources for victims, mandated reporters, and the general public. They include laws and statistics pertaining to child abuse as well as educational materials.

“Our goal was to produce a website for a variety of users ranging from secondary school students seeking information for term papers to medical professionals involved in the examination, treatment and research of child abuse and neglect,” said Gary Shuey, social work supervisor at the Children’s Advocacy Clinic at Penn State Law.

Further Research and Training Efforts

Each month, new employees at Penn State Hershey learn about child abuse from educational materials developed by the Children's Advocacy Clinic. Johnston-Walsh said that making the type of training the Center has developed more widely available is critical. "Penn State Hershey has been training hundreds of new employees on the reporting law each month," she said. "There is no reason that this should not be happening across the commonwealth." 

"Gary Shuey is continuing work with Dr. Benjamin Levi, professor of pediatrics and humanities at Penn State College of Medicine, on ways to expand the Look Out for Child Abuse website and develop additional training materials on child abuse reporting law." She added that the Center on Children and the Law is also working on a research project in collaboration with a pediatric neurosurgeon from Penn State Hershey. Their goal is to establish a definition of "reasonable degree of medical certainty" when doctors are testifying in court about a determination of child abuse. 

Johston-Walsh added that the statistics in the abuse area are startling pointing out that at a minimum, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. "Most child victims never tell anyone which makes it even more important that we help people understand how to spot and report abuse," she said.

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