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Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 12:07 am

UIS opens training center for DCFS

Attacking child advocacy issues one class at a time

Residential Simulation Lab participants can remotely watch the activities that take place in the lab.


In Illinois, advocates for child safety and welfare have been working to find innovative approaches to lower the rate of child abuse. The University of Illinois Springfield has found one.

The first statewide simulation lab for child abuse and neglect opened last week at the University of Illinois Springfield, helping new investigators learn how to pinpoint abuse.

In an interview with Illinois Times, George Sheldon, director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, discussed the drawbacks of not having experiential training prior to this program.  

“One of the shortcomings of DCFS has been providing ongoing experiential training,” said Sheldon. “From my experience, 50 percent of cases involving a child who was allegedly abused get returned from administrative judges. This is due to investigators not asking the right questions.”

On Feb. 1, the University of Illinois Springfield opened the first Residential Simulation Lab (RSL) in Illinois to be used as a training site for state-certified DCFS investigators. Located on West Lake Shore Drive, at the entrance to the UIS campus, the house offers an innovative approach for investigators in training to practice real-life encounters and build their confidence before they enter the field.

In November 2015, Dr. Betsy Goulet, the child advocacy studies (CAST) coordinator at UIS and other administrators from the university held a fundraiser to promote the Residential Simulation Lab. On Feb. 3, the first group of investigators entered the lab, participating in their first simulation. In the lab, there are cameras in every room allowing participants awaiting their turn to see what is going on as each simulation takes place.

Participant feedback from the initial simulation was positive and left the impression that the participants were ready for more training in the future. One participant said that the simulations should be incorporated into all training.

“Historically, new workers experience role-play in a classroom setting, which does not adequately prepare the worker/investigator for the resistance many encounter during the first interaction with the families served,” the participant wrote in an evaluation of the program.

In fiscal year 2014, DCFS released its annual report saying that 755 children in Sangamon County were indicated as victims of child abuse and neglect.

“I believe that we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t provide this training,” said Sheldon, the DCFS director. “I fully support what Betsy is doing at the campus.”

Goulet says the lab uses real-life scenarios to portray what the investigators may encounter in the field.

“When they walk up to that house, they don’t know what to expect, and that’s real life,” Goulet said.

Currently, the university is partnered with DCFS and SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. SIU provides the actors, who pretend to be the family members in the house.

The training classes are held once a week at the lab. For now, the classes are specifically for the investigators, but eventually the simulation lab will be available for other disciplines and students who are studying in the child advocacy studies (CAST) program.

Goulet and Sheldon noted the possibility of students who study child welfare law and investigators learning how to respond to questioning in courtrooms.

“Eventually CAST classes will be involved in the simulation lab, and we will have the ability to tailor the training sessions to the needs of both students who are looking to go into child welfare and those interested in social work,” Goulet said.

“In the lab, mistakes are welcomed,” Goulet said. “The house provides a safe and realistic setting for students and professionals who are likely to encounter these adverse situations.”

UIS chancellor Susan Koch praised the program as part of the school’s vision to “make a difference in the world.”

“That admirable ambition lies at the heart of this new program that is coming to life this year in a small, long-vacant house on the UIS campus that formerly housed the campus credit union,” Koch said.

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com


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