Penn State’s Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, though nationally recognized, is taking preventative measures that promote a safer community for the children locally in Centre County.
Through partnerships with Centre County Youth Services Bureau and the YMCA of Centre County, the Solutions Network is co-hosting a series of live webinars designed to teach adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
The next webinar will be held on Monday, July 6 at 6 p.m. The final two webinars of the series are scheduled for July 14 at 6 p.m. and August 18 at 5:30 p.m. Registration for any of these dates is currently open and offered at no cost.
Christine Bishop, CEO of Centre County’s Youth Service Bureau (YSB), is thankful to have Penn State involved in the project during such an uncertain time.
“The really cool thing about bringing the Solutions Network into the mix is that we’re reaching a little bit wider of an audience,” Bishop said. “We’re able to cross the border and pull in folks from the university community that might not have otherwise heard about this. Being able to have the assistance of their technology has been really helpful right now, as well.”
Kate Guastaferro, assistant research professor in the Solutions Network, said the partnerships between the Solutions Network, YSB and Centre County’s YMCA are unique for many reasons.
“In the past couple of years, the Solutions Network has received national recognition for being this hub of cutting-edge science, policy, intervention and prevention,” Guastaferro said. “Leveraging all of our achievements at the Solutions Network with everything our community partners have achieved creates an unprecedented opportunity to affect change and prevent child sexual abuse.”
As for the webinars, Guastaferro is hopeful that this resource will help community members to better understand what it means to protect kids from sexual abuse, especially during a time when the risk of maltreatment could be higher for some children quarantined due to COVID-19 in unsafe environments.
“This training is crucial during this time, as children are not coming into contact with mandated reporters,” said Jamie SanFilippo, Director of Community Outreach for the YMCA of Centre County. “Unfortunately, 90% of children who are abused know their abuser, and there is a high probability that children are with their abuser on a regular basis.”
The webinars cover an evidence-informed curriculum called Stewards of Children, which is disseminated nationally by the Darkness to Light organization, a non-profit committed to educating adults on the ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
The YMCA of Centre County and YSB have implemented Stewards of Children for several years, and normally it’s delivered in person; however, during the recent pandemic, the Solutions Network, YSB and the YMCA worked with Darkness to Light to create this virtual opportunity.
“The live webinar follows the same structure and format as the in-person instruction and allows us to still meet with people to give them this information while adhering to social distancing rules,” Guastaferro said.
SanFilippo thinks that the virtual webinars may even have a larger reach than the in-person instructions would.
“We are excited to offer this new platform as it is free, convenient, but most importantly safe during this challenging time,” SanFilippo said. “We expect to see more participants taking this training in the comfort of their own home who otherwise would not be able to participate.”
Guastaferro also pointed out that the webinars have an important relevance in today’s virtual world.
“I think something to call attention to is the increased potential for online and virtual victimization,” Guastaferro said. “Kids may be exposed to different content online or be pursued by adults that don’t have the best intentions online, and the reason the webinar is important for adults, whether you’re a parent or not, is because it teaches you how to create that protective environment for kids to grow up in.”
Bishop said that while YSB offers various important resources for families, children and teenagers, the webinars are especially helpful because they encourage adults to be proactive.
“Before you’re ever in a tough situation or you notice something concerning, you can really prepare yourself ahead of time so that you can be an advocate for a child in need when the time comes,” Bishop said.
For reasons like this, the Solutions Network, YSB, and the YMCA remain eager in virtually educating the Centre County community about child maltreatment and are confident in the program’s ability to make an impact.
“I’m a big advocate of using evidence-based curriculum, and we have that with Stewards of Children,” Bishop said. “They’ve shown a real increase in skills of adults who came into the program and left better equipped to actually handle real life situations and know what to do.”
“I've launched these webinars in partnership with other counties across the Commonwealth and have trained over a thousand people in this webinar format in just a couple of months,” said Guastaferro. “ I know that it works, all we need is a little bit of momentum here in Centre County.”
The combined efforts of local organizations, such as YSB and the YMCA, have trained more than 7,600 adults in Centre County, which surpasses 5 percent of adults in the area.
“It is our responsibility as adults to protect children, even if they are not our own,” SanFilippo said. “Every adult should have the knowledge and resources they need to keep children in our community safe, happy, and whole.”
However, the program has benefits beyond making the community safer.
The webinars also count for Continuing Education Units (CEU) for various professionals in need of them. Two, free CEUs are available for social workers, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, licensed professional counselors, and individuals within the Pennsylvania Quality Assurance System (PQAS).Teachers can also use credits from the webinar to fulfill Pennsylvania’s Act 48 requirements.
Community Members who would like to keep this training free and accessible to Centre County can donate by visiting YMCA of Centre County’s website. Donations to support the Darkness to Light mission in educating adults on the prevention of child sexual abuse can also be made online.