Court simulation trains future DCFS workers

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND)- Jamie Anderon took the stand Friday morning.

“What caused you concern for the safety of these two small children?” asked an attorney seated behind a small stack of photographs.

“There were several prescription bottles found throughout the living room … on low tables in reach of the children,” Anderson said. “There were pills, and some of the bottles had various types of pills.”

At the defense table, a man and woman in T-shirts argued in whispers.

The hearing wasn’t held in a courtroom, though. It was held in studio space at the University of Illinois Springfield. As part of the school’s Child Advocacy Studies program, aspiring child welfare workers testify in mock hearings with experienced attorneys and a judge.

“We give them a chance to take what they’re learning about the law and procedures and actually put them into practice through simulation,” said Susan Evans, Executive Director of the Child Protection Training Academy at UIS.

The program also includes a simulation lab in which actors conduct home visits with two “parents,” played by standardized patients from SIU School of Medicine.

Anderson the experience was surreal. She explained her desire to pursue a career in child welfare.

“I grew up in the social work environment. I was in foster care for most of my life, so that guided my focus in college of what I wanted to do,” Anderson said. “I had a good caseworker when I was younger, so she kind of helped set the focus of what I wanted to do with my life."

After the hearing, Anderson went through a debriefing, receiving critiques from the attorneys, the judge and others.

“Debriefing them afterward to find out where they felt confident or where they felt they didn’t know how to answer a question is very important in building their confidence,” Evans said. “The actors give them feedback as well about how they made them feel: did they have good eye contact, were they respectful?”

Every DCFS investigator in Illinois is required to take part in the training at UIS, Evans said. So far, 485 new DCFS investigators have taken part in the training.

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