Clinton County caseworker honored for efforts in investigating ex-PSU coach

LOCK HAVEN – Jessica Dershem, a Clinton County Children and Youth caseworker who worked extensively on the investigation of convicted child abuser and former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, recently received a first-ever statewide award for her efforts.

Jessica Dershem, of Lock Haven, was selected as the first recipient of the Pam Cousins Champion for Children Award.

The award was created to honor Pamela J. Cousins, 50, of Spring Run Road, Weedville, who died April 21, 2012 as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. Cousins, a children and youth administrator in Elk County, served in many capacities at the county and state level and was well known for her professional and volunteer work in the community.

According to the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators Association, which bestowed the award, Dershem “conducted interviews that were instrumental in triggering the massive child abuse case against Jerry Sandusky … Her steadfast belief that her job was to remain focused on the victim validated and supported the young man in an environment that would otherwise have been heavily weighted in favor of the perpetrator. It is our pleasure and honor to commend Jessica for her professionalism and advocacy.”

“I wish to extend my thanks and appreciation to the PCYA board for recognizing Jess and her outstanding work in the Sandusky case,” said Gerald Rosamilia, local Children’s Services director. “Her expertise in the area of sexual abuse investigations has always been top notch. Her courtroom testimony was flawless last June at the Sandusky criminal trial and aided significantly in a guilty verdict.”

“When asked why I chose the field, I’ve always told people I didn’t choose it … It chose me,” Dershem said. “I couldn’t be happier that the universe has not only guided me to the child welfare field, but to the child welfare field in Clinton County … I am very blessed to be part of such a wonderful group of hard-working and caring individuals who are not only my colleagues, but also my friends.”

Rosamilia said the local department is “truly honored” to have a local candidate receive this particular award, as it was established as a tribute to his colleague and friend.

Dershem was the first professional to interview Aaron Fisher, the first victim to come forward and say Sandusky abused him.

Dershem interviewed Fisher in 2008, and later interviewed Sandusky in January 2009 and ended up testifying at Sandusky’s trial in June.

“Jess excelled in her role as the primary caseworker responsible for interviewing the victim and the perpetrator,” Rosamilia said. “The expertise with which she presented her testimony played a key role in placing a serial child molester in prison for the balance of his life.”

Dershem, a 2000 graduate of Central Mountain High School, received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work from Lock Haven University in 2004.

She worked in the Pittsburgh area with Allegheny County Children and Youth following a local professional internship in Centre County, and returned to this area when a position opened up.

She also worked for a time as a child care provider for Building Blocks Childcare and Learning Center. She was honored last year by the Clinton County Commissioners for her work on the case.