The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is partnering with the University of Illinois Springfield to create an unprecedented new training program called the Child Protection Training Academy (CPTA). The Academy is one of the first of its kind in the country and specializes in a realistic and hands-on approach for the training of welfare and child protective services investigators.
Susan Evans, Director of CPTA, reports that so far the academy has trained over 140 DCFS investigators, and hopes to expand its services to more DCFS staff as well as law enforcement, first-responders, and UIS students interested in going into social work. The training mainly occurs in the Residential Simulation Lab House, a small, previously abandoned building located on the UIS campus. Betsy Goulet, a clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the Child Advocacy Studies at UIS was responsible for spearheading the formation of the program and obtaining the house as a training facility.
Goulet went through a similar program when she was studying for her PhD, and felt that the training child-protection investigators receive is often inadequate in preparing them for what they will face on a day-to-day basis. In the Child Protection Training Academy, investigators enter into mock scenarios within the Lab House that will help prepare them for what they will face in real life. The scenarios are filmed and screened to a classroom where students and other trainees can watch what their colleagues are doing. The House is sparsely furnished and includes props, and Goulet hopes that with more funding they can make it even more realistic.
The other aspect of the program is to help trainees prepare to testify in court on behalf of the children they are protecting. The courtroom simulation utilizes a real judge, most often John Mehlick, a retired judge from Sangamon County, as well as real prosecutors and defense attorneys. There are also “witnesses” that help with the training, usually volunteer actors from Southern Illinois University.
This kind of training is invaluable in preparing investigators for the very real challenges they will face in advocating for at-risk children. These kids need them to be at the top of their game, because they are often the closest allies the kids have and their best chance at escaping what could be a very dangerous situation. It is too easy these days for children to be failed by the system that is meant to protect them, and these types of training programs are so important in preventing anything like that happening again.