* Maureen Foertsch McKinney at NPR Illinois…
The University of Illinois Springfield has elected to discontinue its contract with the state’s Department of Children and Family Services to offer simulation training for DCFS investigators in a house on campus.
The university decided against renewal of the agreement because the state had not followed its best-practice recommendation that simulation be included throughout a five-week course rather than four and a half days, said Dr. Betsy Goulet, who founded and directs the simulations at UIS and is former DCFS investigator.
”We really think that we could do a much better job if we had them over the course of their foundation training, and we could intersperse the classroom content with the experiences in the SIM lab with different environments and different scenarios,” she said. […]
She said by doing the simulation, “They have a whole different idea of what it’s like to come into somebody’s home and ask difficult questions. I mean, they have to ask parents to take a baby’s clothing off. So they can, you know, see where there might be… you know, marks or bruises.”
“That’s hard to do. As a perfect stranger, you’d you come in and say, well, I need you to take a baby’s clothes off. You know, imagine the stress that comes with doing that. But it’s part of your procedure,” she said. “And so we train them to have those really challenging hard conversations, but we don’t give them enough time to practice. And that’s the frustration.” […]
A spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services said the agency “is deeply committed to simulation training and continues to expand simulation training across the state with new university partners.”
What the heck?
*** UPDATE 1 *** Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert…
This is a cutting-edge, highly regarded program that has received high marks from investigators, advocates, and academics.
The UIS training academy is a flagship program and a national model. UIS researchers use data from the simulation exercises for research to improve child protection practice. In March, UIS was awarded $720,000 in federal funds to support the training academy. In announcing the funding, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin remarked, “The University of Illinois at Springfield has established itself as a leader in training front line child protection workers and first responders.”
Nine young children have died since December despite DCFS’s extensive involvement with the family. We posted about the most recent child, 3-year-old I’Kera Hill, just this morning. Moreover, investigator safety issues have been prominent in the headlines after the murder of DCFS investigator Deidre Silas during the course of an investigation in January. It’s inexplicable, reckless and irresponsible for DCFS to suddenly discontinue this outstanding, critical resource for training its investigators.
*** UPDATE 2 *** From DCFS Director of Communications Bill McCaffrey…
“These allegations are both wrong and ridiculous, and they denigrate the hard work that has gone into improving and expanding training. In fact, DCFS is so committed to simulation training for child welfare workers that we’ve increased our investment from $320,000 in 2018 to $2.3 million this year so that we can open new hubs across the state and workers can be trained closer to the communities they serve. UIS proposed that they be the sole provider rather than allowing other university partners across the state to provide simulation training for child protection workers. Rather than accepting this demand, DCFS opted to continue to invest in a multi-site, multi-university program.
“Additionally, UIS was on a corrective action plan, including for their failures to hire a pipeline of diverse staff for the actual simulations. This failure posed serious problems for meeting our goals to be equitable and provide inclusive training opportunities. We are moving forward with a new site in Springfield that will meet these needs and provide state-of-the-art training.”
• New DCFS investigators go through a six week training in order to become certified to conduct child protection investigation. This is primarily classroom based training for four weeks, called “foundations”, followed by a fifth week in the field for on the job training, and a sixth where they conduct simulation training. The first simulation training was developed in collaboration with University of Illinois Springfield and conducted on their campus.
• In order to meet the statewide needs of investigator training, a new simulation lab was opened in Chicago at a DCFS site on the South side of Chicago. That simulation site is run in collaboration with the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
• DCFS has also expanded to include two additional simulation training sites and university partnerships. One is located at Northern Illinois University and is currently operational and training investigators. The other site is at Southern Illinois University, which is physically completed and will be operational by early 2023 once they are fully staffed and trained.
• DCFS is currently in the early stages of building out an additional simulation site in Springfield, that like the Chicago site, would be located on DCFS property. It would be staffed by DCFS employed trainers.
• DCFS has expanded our investment in simulation training from just $320,00 in fiscal year 2018 to $2.3 million in the current fiscal year.
Seems to me, if this is true, that DCFS should’ve said that from the beginning.
*** UPDATE 3 *** Heidi Dalenberg, Managing Legal Director, ACLU IL…
The end of DCFS’ ongoing relationship with the University of Illinois at Springfield to provide simulation training for investigators is depressing and dangerous. It is depressing to see the Department lose access to one of the few contract partners that was making a difference in improving investigations of alleged child abuse.
The Department claims there were issues with UIS’ performance on a “corrective action plan” for diversity – we don’t have knowledge of those circumstances. What we do know, though is that UIS developed the simulation training that Illinois pioneered and that now is viewed as a model worthy of implementation across the country.
It appears that the real schism between DCFS and UIS was that the Department could not accept – and integrate – the well-founded guidance of the UIS experts regarding how training should be delivered in order to be effective under the UIS model program. It may be that DCFS is using new partners for simulation training, but if that training does not track the UIS model, we lose the assurance that we currently have – that the training will be effective.
DCFS’ move is dangerous for children and for DCFS employees. The UIS program helped increase safety for DCFS employees who conduct home visits and the children they are seeking to protect. At a moment when we are all concerned about safety, the expertise and experience offered by this program should be honored and embraced, not truncated and parceled out to different providers.