Victor Vieth, founder of Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center in Minnesota, says nighttime is “the terrible time” for many children.
“It’s at nighttime when many children are beaten, shaken, sexually abused and cry themselves to sleep,” Vieth said. “These are the shadow children of our country.”
On April 25, Vieth joined supporters of the University of Illinois Springfield Child Advocacy Studies program in a dedication to the campus’ statewide child protection services training lab. It’s the only one in Illinois and one of only six in the nation. During the dedication, a tree was planted in remembrance of children who are abused by adults, living in fear even after the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services investigates their situations.
The dedication was to “Caleb Thomas”, a pseudonym for a child who died as a result of child protection service investigators being inadequately trained to recognize the signs of abuse.
Dr. Betsy Goulet, the child advocacy studies (CAST) coordinator at UIS, George Sheldon, director of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), Susan Evans, child protection service trainer for DCFS and other child advocates teamed up to ensure that new DCFS trainers get the hands-on training needed in order to minimize the chance of abused children not receiving the assistance they need to get out of the unsafe environment.
Goulet and Evans, revamped the training curriculum using the simulation lab to help new DCFS investigators become better equipped for, in some cases, their first real investigation.
The system failed Caleb, Evans said.
“We had an investigation, but through a series of common missteps that happen in child protection, Caleb died a few months after our involvement,” he said.
The director of the DCFS thanked UIS for becoming a partner in the training process. Sheldon believes training needs to be more than just a textbook.
“It needs to be learning real life experiences, in real life situations,” Sheldon said. “That’s what this house does and that’s what the simulation in the courtroom does.”
The courtroom that Sheldon is referring to is also a part of the training curriculum that Goulet has implemented.
On Thursdays, the new DCFS investigators will learn how to testify in court using the “Caleb Thomas” case as a point of reference. Retired Judge John Mehlick sits in as the presiding judge to assist in the process.
Goulet says that eventually she would like law enforcement and first responders to be involved in the training.
“It would become a truly comprehensive curriculum starting from 9-1-1 to the courtroom,” she said.
“The message that we need to get across to our employees is that a checklist can’t always give you a black and white answer,” Sheldon said. “Ultimately, they have to use their training their experience, their judgment to make a decision that’s right for that child and that family. That’s why this project is so important.”
Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at firstname.lastname@example.org.