Advocates, Experts Continue Dialogue on Keeping Children Safe
Several child advocates spoke from their areas of expertise at a Penn State-sponsored joint lecture event designed to further the discussion on child maltreatment and eliminate the stigma that hinders its prevention. Students, faculty, staff and members of the public attended Keeping Children Safe: Continuing the Dialogue, which was held Oct. 10 at the Bennett Pierce Living Center on the University Park campus. The event was a combined effort of Penn State units to provide a forum for a conversation on child abuse. The first speaker, John Soubik, shared stories from his time as a county child welfare investigator. Soubik, a 1985 Penn State College of Health and Human Development alumnus, is currently an adjunct professor at University of South Dakota. During his talk, he told detailed accounts of working with children, families and the law. “When you’re a child abuse investigator, you have so much authority,” he said. “You can take someone’s child away from them. That’s an awesome responsibility and a challenging one." Soubik added that although challenging, it’s also incredibly gratifying to guide children away from an abusive and troubled life. “I cannot comprehend how someone could intentionally harm a child,” he said. “We are here to learn about awareness and become a force of action.” Although much of his lecture featured true stories about his time as an investigator, Soubik made it a point to mention the long-lasting effects abuse can have on a person — specifically after the abuse is over. The second speaker of the night, Sheldon Kennedy, echoed much of Soubik’s statements. A child abuse victim himself, Kennedy pushed for higher awareness and better education for everyone. He said the key is building a wide-spread acceptance and knowledge of the issue. “Pedophiles operate on the public’s ignorance,” Kennedy said. “Our best defense is educating adults and giving them the confidence to deal with these issues.” Kennedy is a former NHL hockey player and co-founder of Respect Group Inc. He is a major spokesperson for child abuse prevention and awareness programs in his home country of Canada. As a young boy, he was sexually abused by his hockey coach, and for the past 15 years, he has dedicated his life to abolishing society’s stigma about sexual abuse conversations. “I want to paint a picture of the trauma these kids have left over,” Kennedy said. “We know more about it now than ever.” He added that the trauma isn’t always visible. “If a kid walks in with broken legs, we say, ‘Oh, you must be hurt.’ But there’s also mental trauma that’s invisible.” Kennedy said there’s been a social shift of the way people think about child abuse issues. He said it’s scary, but his goal is to make it less scary to talk about and get people educated. A five-person panel featuring Kennedy, Soubik and three child maltreatment experts followed the lectures. The panel also included Jennie Noll, professor of human development and family studies and director of research and education in Penn State's Child Maltreatment Solutions Network; Teresa Smith, Northeast Region Children's Advocacy Centers outreach and training coordinator; and Pamela McCloskey, licensed psychologist and child forensic interviewer. The group took questions from the audience that mostly revolved around society’s perception of child abuse and what changes can be made to get people motivated to raise awareness. Soubik’s presentation is sponsored by the de Lissovoy Program Support Endowment for the Protection of Children in Penn State's Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and the Human Development and Family Studies Undergraduate Student Organization. Kennedy’s talk and the panel discussion were sponsored by the University’s Justice Center for Research and Child Maltreatment Solutions Network.