Chad E. Shenk 

photo of Chad Shenk

Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Contact Information

230 Health and Human Development Building
Pennsylvania State University
University Park PA 16802


Research Interests

It is well known that child maltreatment affects long-term health and development. However, important scientific questions about the impact of child maltreatment remain and require answers if we are to allocate resources commensurate with the risks these children face. For instance, why do effect sizes vary across studies of child maltreatment examining the same health outcome? What are the causal pathways that explain why child maltreatment leads to diverse outcomes across the health spectrum? How can we improve the effectiveness of interventions, both preventive and treatment, for those children affected by maltreatment? These questions spur three interrelated aims in my research laboratory: 1) advance methods that facilitate the accurate estimation of the impact of child maltreatment across adverse health outcomes, 2) identify risk mechanisms leading to multiple adverse health outcomes in the child maltreatment population, and 3) optimize the prevention and treatment of psychopathology by targeting and engaging identified mechanisms. Projects in the lab where additional graduate and undergraduate student support is needed:

Identifying and Controlling Contamination in Prospective Cohort Studies of Child Maltreatment
Variation in the significance and magnitude of effect size estimates reported across prospective studies has led to replication failures and the weakening of causal inferences about the long-term health effects of child maltreatment. In the first study of its kind, my lab examined whether the presence of child maltreatment in a comparison condition, a phenomenon known as contamination, produces such variation in effect size estimates across a number of health outcomes in young adulthood: obesity, teenage birthrates, clinical levels of major depressive symptoms, and past-month cigarette use. The prevalence of contamination was high in this study (44.8%), truncating effect size estimates and increasing the probability of Type II errors. However, a multi-informant method measuring child maltreatment at each prospective assessment provided optimal control of contamination with sizeable increases in effect size magnitudes for all outcomes. The lab is now leading efforts at replicating these findings using the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) dataset, including multiple means for controlling contamination, to strengthen causal inferences about the effects of child maltreatment through more precise estimation of risk magnitudes.

The Biological Embedding of Child Maltreatment and Subsequent Health
The Child Health Study (Shenk, Co-I) is an NIH-funded prospective cohort study examining the impact of child maltreatment on multiple biological systems and subsequent health. Children and their families participate in a Child Health Day where they complete several health assessments, including a health and physical exam, cognitive testing, diet and exercise, dyadic interactions, an MRI, a psychological task, and a battery of emotional and social health surveys. The data generated from this study, including genetics and epigenetics, intellectual abilities, observational data, structural and functional neuroimaging, and stress reactivity, will inform models of how the experience of child maltreatment “gets under the skin” to increase the risk for adverse health. Both graduate and undergraduate students in the lab are working on the Child Health Study in a variety of capacities, including recruitment, active data collection with families, administration of study tasks, and data entry and coding.

The Life Events and Reactions Study (Shenk, PI) is a genetic case-control association study examining the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms associated with the onset of psychiatric disorders in the child maltreatment population. Children between the ages of 8 and 15 years of age who have experienced substantiated child maltreatment are currently being recruited for this study. Graduate and undergraduate students collect biospecimens (oral fluid, buccal swab) and administer a structured psychiatric interview determining the presence and course of multiple disorders. Students are also actively involved in the entry, coding, and cleaning of data in preparation for eventual analysis. Results from this study will provide insight into the genetic, epigenetic, and psychological contributions for these disorders in the child maltreatment population so that interventions targeting these processes can be developed or applied more effectively. This multi-site project is funded by a KL2 award from Penn State.

The Female Growth and Development Study (Shenk, Co-I) is a 30-year prospective cohort study of the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on subsequent female health outcomes. Research from this study has provided some of the most definitive results to date on the adverse developmental effects following CSA, including neuroendocrine disruption, premature cognitive aging, sexual risk behaviors, and pubertal timing. Recent NIH funding is extending this study into middle adulthood where the effects of CSA on some of the leading health risks of this developmental period, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and obesity, are being examined. FGDS will also examine the changes in suspected biobehavioral mechanisms across development that may increase the risk for these adverse outcomes in this population. Such efforts will inform multiple types of clinical intervention as well as identify the optimal point in development to deliver such interventions. Graduate students are actively involved in conducting home visits, administering research protocols evaluating developmental outcomes in both adults and children, observational coding of parent-child interactions, as well as data entry and coding.

Prevention and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders following Child Maltreatment
The Selective Prevention Trial (Shenk, PI) is a randomized feasibility trial examining the active contributions of individual treatment components commonly applied within larger treatment packages for the child maltreatment population. Recent research on the etiology of psychiatric disorders suggests that child maltreatment affects a circumscribed set of centralized risk mechanisms, known as transdiagnostic mechanisms, responsible for the increased incidences of multiple psychiatric disorders in this population. This study is testing the feasibility and initial efficacy of delivering individual components to alter unique transdiagnostic mechanisms following an act of child maltreatment to optimize intervention effects and reduce the incidences of multiple psychiatric disorders. Graduate students and clinical staff are actively recruiting subjects, managing and allocating treatment randomization sequences, conducting treatment evaluations, and developing databases for statistical analysis. This project is supported by a Level II SSRI award from Penn State.

The Animal-Assisted Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (AAT+TF-CBT) Trial (Shenk, Co-I) is an NIH-funded randomized feasibility trial examining the tolerability and acceptability of delivering TF-CBT while a service dog is present throughout the active phase of treatment. Preliminary research has shown that animal assisted therapy may provide a relaxing and supportive environment during clinical intervention. TF-CBT is the only well-established intervention for children experiencing maltreatment. This study will examine whether introducing a service dog during standard administration of TF-CBT enhances treatment effects above and beyond TF-CBT alone. Graduate students in the lab assisting with the AAT+TF-CBT trial are collecting, editing, and analyzing data collected through electrocardiograms delivered at pre-treatment, post-treatment, as well as during each session of the active treatment phase.


2010--NIH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Child Maltreatment, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
2007--Doctor of Philosophy/Master of Arts, Clinical Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno
2007--Pre-Doctoral Clinical Internship, University of Rochester Medical Center
1998--Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University

Professional Experience

  • 2017-Associate Professor, The Pennsylvania State University
    Department of Human Development and Family Studies
    Department of Pediatrics (Joint)
  • 2013- 2017: Assistant Professor, The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Human Development and Family Studies
    Department of Pediatrics, Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics, Hershey Medical Center
  • 2013-Present: Clinical Psychologist, The Pennsylvania State University Hershey Medical Center
    Center for the Protection of Children
    Stine Foundation Transforming the Lives of Children Clinic
  • 2010-2013: Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Division of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology, Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology (Joint)

Selected Publications

Selected Publications * Denotes Student/Trainee Authorship

Shenk. C.E., Ammerman, R.T., Teeters, A.R.*, Bensman, H.E., Allen, E.K.*, Putnam, F.W., & Van Ginkel, J.B. (2017). History of maltreatment in childhood and subsequent parenting stress in at-risk, first-time mothers: Identifying points of intervention during home visiting. Prevention Science, 18, 361-370. doi: 10.1007/s11121-017-0758-4.

Shenk, C.E., Noll, J.G., Peugh, J.L., Griffin, A.M., & Bensman, H.E. (2016). Contamination in the prospective study of child maltreatment and female adolescent health. Journal of Pediatric Psychology: Special Issue on Trauma and Child Health. 41, 37-45. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsv017.

Shenk, C.E., Noll, J.G., Griffin, A.M.*, Allen, E.K.*, Lee, S.E.*, Lewkovich, K.L.*, & Allen, B. (2016). Psychometric evaluation of The Comprehensive Trauma Interview PTSD Symptoms Scale following exposure to child maltreatment. Child Maltreatment, 21, 343-352. doi: 10.1177/1077559516669253.

Teeters, A.R.*, Ammerman, R.T., Shenk, C.E., Goyal, N.G., Folger, A.T., Putnam, F.W., & van Ginkel, J.B. (2016). Predictors of maternal depressive symptom trajectories over the first 18 months in home visiting. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

Shenk, C.E., Griffin, A.M., & O’Donnell, K.J. (2015). Symptoms of major depressive disorder subsequent to child maltreatment: Examining change across multiple levels of analysis to identify transdiagnostic risk pathways. Development and Psychopathology. 27, 1503-1514. doi: 10.1017/S0954579415000905.

Shenk, C.E., Dorn, L.D., Kolko, D.J., Rausch, J.R., & Insana, S.P. (2014). Prior exposure to interpersonal violence and long-term treatment response for boys with a disruptive behavior disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27, 585-592. doi: 10.1002/jts.21962.

Shenk, C.E., Putnam, F.W, Rausch, J.R., Peugh, J.L. & Noll, J.G. (2014). A longitudinal study of several potential mediators of the relationship between child maltreatment and PTSD symptoms. Development and Psychopathology, 26, 81-91. doi:10.1017/S0954579413000916.

Noll, J.G. & Shenk, C.E. (2013). Teenage birthrates in sexually abused and neglected females. Pediatrics, 131, e1181-e1187. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-3072.

Shenk, C.E., Putnam, F.W. & Noll, J.G. (2013). Predicting the accuracy of facial affect recognition: The interaction of child maltreatment and intellectual functioning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 114, 229-242. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.08.007. PMCID: PMC3576026.

Shenk, C.E. & Fruzzetti, A.E. (2011). The impact of validating and invalidating responses on emotional reactivity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 30(2), 163-183. doi: 10.1521/jscp.2011.30.2.163.

Curriculum Vitae

.pdf icon Chad Shenk vitae

Center Affiliations

  • Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development

Strategic Themes

  • Human Development
  • Domains of Health and Behavior