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Current Projects

Statewide Planning for New Child Advocacy Centers

Child Advocacy Centers provide a child-friendly, coordinated process of interviewing victims of suspected child abuse by a trained forensic interviewer on behalf of all of the systems and professionals who would have otherwise interviewed the child individually. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) has contracted with the Field Center to conduct research and planning assistance to support the development of new Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Field Center will be gathering and analyzing data and utilizing mapping technology to make recommendations to PCCD on proposed locations for new Child Advocacy Centers so that every child in Pennsylvania will have access to a CAC, in accordance with the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. The Task Force recommendations come on the heels of the Sandusky case in which sexual abuse victims did not have access to a CAC for appropriate interviewing and coordinated case planning.

Child Advocacy Centers provide a child-friendly, coordinated process of interviewing victims of suspected child abuse by a trained forensic interviewer on behalf of the child welfare, law enforcement, victim advocacy, district attorney, medical, and behavioral health systems. This model of investigation minimizes the need for child victims to tell their story over and over to different people, and offers them a safe and supportive environment to talk about their abuse. A team comprised of representatives of these different systems observes the interview via one-way mirror or closed circuit TV, and the interview is recorded for use by the legal system. As a result, victims are not further traumatized by the systems that are designed to help them. Prosecution and case planning benefits as well. A multidisciplinary team (MDT) provides coordinated case planning, a more efficient and family-friendly method of response. Additionally, victim advocates support the family through the process. Medical examinations are conducted by trained medical experts, and behavioral health services to help the child heal are trauma-informed and geared specifically for victims of child abuse. Child Advocacy Centers serve primarily victims of child sexual abuse, but many also serve victims of physical abuse or witnesses to violent crime. They may serve children referred to the county child welfare system, local police departments, the district attorney’s office for potential prosecution of sexual offenses against children, or a combination. Although there are national standards of accreditation for Child Advocacy Centers, centers have the flexibility to be designed to meet the needs of their particular communities within these standards. In order to be most successful, strategic and research-supported planning needs to occur.

The National Children’s Alliance is the national accrediting body for child advocacy centers. They establish standards of practice by which Child Advocacy Centers are measured. Standards address each component of the Child Advocacy Center and its process. Child Advocacy Centers may be structured differently, be housed within one or more partner agencies or as an independent organization, and vary in theircomposition. However, each is held to the same standards to assure adherence to the principles and processes required.

In January of 2012, the Pennsylvania Legislature convened the Task Force on Child Protection to help identify challenges in Pennsylvania’s response to child abuse and recommend needed reforms. In their comprehensive report, released in November 2012, Task Force Chair, Bucks County DA David Heckler, stated that “a Child Advocacy Center should be reasonably accessible to every child in this Commonwealth.” Specific recommendations include “a thorough study of the existing CACs and MDITs throughout the Commonwealth. This study should include an analysis of structure and funding sources for CACs and identify those areas of the Commonwealth best suited for the establishment of additional CACs.” Currently, there are a limited number of CACs across the commonwealth. Although each county is required to have an MDIT, variation exists from county to county in regard to their structure, utilization, and compliance. In addition, MDITs are limited in both scope and resources, with CACs offering more comprehensive services to the child victim.

Establishing a statewide plan for new Child Advocacy Centers in not as simple as placing pins on a map. In order to develop a plan to meet the needs of the Commonwealth’s children, a well-researched proposal is required. The location of cases, both in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, is required to inform the process. Geographical considerations include county and agency boundaries, accessibility by potential users of the service, and available transportation. Resources to provide all required components of the multidisciplinary team process must be identified so that recommendations for future sites are able to provide the needed service. Lastly, to address economies of scale, regional Child Advocacy Centers need to be explored to serve some of the Commonwealth’s less populated areas.

The Field Center will be reviewing child welfare, prosecution, and law enforcement data on a county-by-county basis over the past five years, current Child Advocacy Center and MDIT utilization, location of potential resources to meet the multidisciplinary needs of the center. The University of Pennsylvania’s Cartographic Modeling Lab will provide GIS support and analysis for the project, including helping to identify the ideal locations for new Child Advocacy Centers so that they are within reasonable driving distances for children, families, and MDT representatives.

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Analysis of Needed Reform in Pennsylvania’s Response to Child Abuse in the Wake of the Sandusky Case

The tragedy of the Sandusky case in which numerous children were sexually abused pointed out the failure of the system to adequately address child abuse in Pennsylvania and the need for systemic reform. The Field Center conducted an analysis and served a key role in Pennsylvania’s efforts to improve their response to victims of child abuse.

The Field Center’s team of child welfare experts conducted an in-depth analysis of the challenges and failings in Pennsylvania’s response to reports of child abuse in the wake of the Sandusky case. With a public outcry to institute change and the political will to act quickly, the Field Center sought to bring research and evidence to bear in the process of reform. The Center completed an analysis of the Pennsylvania child protection laws, studied data and reports, and reviewed applicable research to help form specific recommendations for needed change.

Click here to read The Field Center’s recommendations for reform.

The Field Center supported the creation of a Task Force on Child Protection, signed into law by Governor Corbett in December 2012, to examine the problems with Pennsylvania’s response to child abuse reports and make recommendations for legislative and policy change. The 11-member task force was created and Field Center Faculty Director Dr. Cindy Christian was one of Governor Corbett’s four appointees to the time-limited task force.

The Field Center hosted the first community-based public hearing on behalf of the task force on April 18, 2012 at Penn Law’s Fitts Auditorium. Two representatives of the Field Center, Dean Richard Gelles and Executive Director Debra Schilling Wolfe, were asked to testify before the Task Force on Child Protection at the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Their testimonies may be found here:

Testimony of Dean Richard Gelles

Testimony of Debra Schilling Wolfe

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection concluded its work and released its report in November 2012. The Field Center’s recommendations weighed heavily in the task force deliberations. Click here to read the final report.

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The Field Center’s Interdisciplinary Evaluation Clinic

The Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research’s Interdisciplinary Evaluation Clinic provides comprehensive interdisciplinary evaluations of children and families with a history of significant child abuse or neglect. Staffed by the Field Center’s faculty directors, staff, and fellows, all experts in child welfare representing a variety of disciplines and perspectives, the Interdisciplinary Evaluation Clinic focuses its work on cases that are high risk, most challenging, and/or precedent-setting. To this end, the Field Center selects a small number of significant cases to evaluate rather than supporting a high volume clinic.

The focus of the Field Center’s Interdisciplinary Clinic is to inform decision-making from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the child, based on:

  • Clinical assessment of family members
  • A comprehensive review of available case records and reports
  • Consultation with significant collateral sources
  • Application of pertinent research, policy and practice evaluation, laws and regulations
  • An interdisciplinary evaluation process resulting in specific recommendations

The interdisciplinary nature of the Field Center provides a unique and comprehensive approach to the evaluation process. The clinicians conducting the evaluation serve as representatives of the team as a whole so that the interdisciplinary process is one of collaboration rather than merely consultation. The evaluation process embraces the interactive methodology of the team so that it is characterized as “interdisciplinary” rather than “multidisciplinary” in scope.

Cases are staffed at intake and upon completion of the evaluation among the entire clinic team along with the assigned caseworker, supervisor, and attorney representing the referring child welfare agency. All available records on family members are obtained and reviewed to support a comprehensive evaluation process. Interdisciplinary Evaluation Clinic team members include the disciplines of forensic psychology, law, pediatric medicine, social work, nursing, child and family therapy, and social policy. Psychological testing and medical examinations are provided if deemed necessary by the team. Evaluations are conducted in the Field Center’s on-sight clinic that offers clinic observation opportunity for the team and video recording of each evaluation session. Comprehensive evaluation reports are written and the clinic’s lead clinician provides expert testimony as required. Evaluations are conducted on a fee for service basis.

In keeping with the Field Center’s mission to inform systemic change, the Field Center also provides the child welfare agency director with written recommendations for systemic improvement that result from individual case evaluations.

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A New Child Advocacy Center for Delaware County: Technical Assistance and Consultation

With the support of a grant from the Philadelphia Foundation, Media-based non-profit Family Support Line has contracted with the Field Center to provide technical assistance and support to establish a new Child Advocacy Center for Delaware County, PA.

Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) provide a child-friendly, coordinated process of interviewing victims of suspected child abuse by a trained forensic interviewer on behalf of the child welfare, law enforcement, victim advocacy, district attorney, medical, and behavioral health systems. This model of investigation minimizes the need for child victims to tell their story over and over to different people, and offers them a safe and supportive environment to talk about their abuse. A team comprised of representatives of these different systems observes the interview via one-way mirror or closed circuit TV, and the interview is recorded for use by the legal system. As a result, victims are not further traumatized by the systems that are designed to help them. Prosecution and case planning benefits as well. A multidisciplinary team (MDT) provides coordinated case planning, a more efficient and family-friendly method of response. Additionally, Victim Advocates support the family through the process. Medical exams are conducted by trained medical experts, and behavioral health services to help the child heal are trauma-informed and geared specifically for victims of child abuse. Child Advocacy Centers serve primarily victims of child sexual abuse, but many also serve victims of physical abuse or witnesses to violent crime.

To support the development of a Child Advocacy Center to meet the specific and unique needs of Delaware County, the Field Center is conducting a needs assessment to identify current and historical patterns of the numbers and types of cases, community demographics, and other factors that are critical to inform the design of the center. In addition, a feasibility study will involve interviewing key community stakeholders.

The Field Center’s work will include partnership development, community engagement work, research and analysis, CAC structure including staffing pattern and board of directors structure, input on facility design, identification of multidisciplinary team (MDT) members, developing and negotiating Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) among the partner agencies (including all police departments within the county), national accreditation standards gap analysis, recruitment and hiring of the CAC director, identifying operating and capital budget needs, and preparing the new Child Advocacy Center to open its doors.

The final deliverable will include the following reports:

  1. Needs Assessment
  2. Feasibility Study
  3. Best Practice Research/Accreditation Gap Analysis
  4. Business and Budgetary Recommendations

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Remedying the Gaps in Jurisdictional Barriers to Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting and Investigations

Reports of child abuse and neglect that involve more that one state can fail to be investigated because jurisdiction is determined by individual state laws and child welfare policies. The Field Center identified this as a critical issue, documenting specific cases in which this occurred. Prior to Field Center involvement, there was no thought to track this data or remedy this problem.

The Field Center has identified situations in which reports of child abuse and neglect “fall through the cracks” and result in no jurisdiction assuming responsibility for accepting the report and investigating its allegations. Every day that passes, children remain in harm’s way because the current child abuse reporting and investigations system has no provision for accepting and then investigating reports of child abuse and neglect when the child, perpetrator, and incident are not all within one state. Individual states have statutory and operational strategies for investigating suspected child maltreatment but where the case involves more than one jurisdiction, there is no policy set in place that ensures the acceptance of a report from one state to the other. Substantial risk is then evident in the failure to pursue these investigations because of the existing barriers that separate the jurisdictions. The Field Center has been working to ensure that every incident of suspected maltreatment gets investigated and responded to appropriately, even if the incident crosses jurisdictional boundaries.

The Field Center provided testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Education and Labor, in of 2009. A provision to begin to track data was written in to the most recent reauthorization of CAPTA (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act).

The Stoneleigh Foundation funded a fellowship with the Field Center to support comprehensive research into this issue. Each state’s child abuse reporting laws and regulations were analyzed, and state child welfare policies regarding the acceptance and investigation of reports in which the incident, victim and/or alleged perpetrator involved more that one state were studied.

The Field Center is in the process of identifying strategies and solutions to assure that victims no longer fall through the cracks because of jurisdictional barriers.

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Montgomery County (PA) Social Media Foster Care Recruitment Project

The Field Center is assisting the Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth with guidance and technical assistance to devise a plan to utilize social media in recruiting potential foster parents. The Field Center conducted an extensive literature review detailing the innovative ways that social media is being used in the child welfare system throughout the country. The Field Center is conceptualizing a social media campaign for Foster Care Awareness Month that will link Montgomery County’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to increase visibility of their foster parent recruitment efforts. This campaign will profile successful foster families, provide FAQ’s, foster care statistics, direct stories from youth, and helpful tips for family activities. This comprehensive campaign will both inform community members on the process of becoming a foster parent, as well as the many advantages that come with giving a child a safe and loving home.

Project PENN: A Philadelphia Family Court-based outreach program

Project PENN offers a unique court-based information and referral program for families awaiting dependency (child abuse and neglect) proceedings at Philadelphia Family Court. Underwritten through the Nancy Glickenhaus Family Court Program, Project PENN provides a learning opportunity for Field Center graduate student interns while connecting families with critical community-based services.

Arising from a 2005 Field Center research study  that examined the experiences of families awaiting dependency proceedings in Philadelphia Family Court, Project PENN seeks to take advantage of the “teachable moment” while families are present at the courthouse. The realization that the majority of families were experiencing a long wait before seeing a judge, with little privacy, limited knowledge of the court process, and lack of information on social service programs, prompted the Field Center to develop this innovative program. With the full support of the court’s administrative judge, Project PENN opened its doors in 2009.

Through Project PENN, families meet individually, in a private office with graduate students who assist them in identifying concrete resources in the community to address the needs that frequently cause stress and disruption in families and place children at risk for harm. Families receive access to a comprehensive resource directory (developed and updated regularly by Field Center student interns), web-based resources, and clear and understandable brochures on topics such as housing, employment, food, clothing and healthcare. By helping families identify and prioritize their needs and increasing their knowledge of and access to community resources, Project PENN both teaches problem-solving skills and supports families in problem solving. Project PENN staff provides information and makes referrals for families, accessing both the phone and internet, from their office located in the large waiting room at the Philadelphia Family Court.

Data is tracked on program utilization and is incorporated in the court’s annual report.

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