SPRINGFIELD, ILL. (WCIA)– The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has come under intense scrutiny this year, after several children who had cases with them died.

WCIA went to the Child Protection Training Academy at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) where they train case workers and investigators to better spot and report kids who might be in danger.

The training model called Project Forecast walks the workers through real-life scenarios, showing them how to keep children in Illinois safe.

“Other industries use simulation as a way to get a sense of what to expect when you do this job. But child welfare really didn’t have that kind of realism or those kinds of environments,” said Betsy Goulet, Child Advocacy Studies coordinator at UIS.

The program features encounters with at-risk children different environments to show the frontline workers the proper way to respond.

More than 700 caseworkers have been trained by the academy since 2015.
We watched trainees walk through an experience with a traumatized toddler at a hospital. Organizers said adding scenarios in an actual medical setting makes a big difference.

“Understanding the dialogue you have to have between the medical provider when you are getting information in an ER setting, you can imagine what kind of chaos and constant distractions in an ER, you have to find the right way to communicate,” Goulet said.

Earlier this year , Governor Pritzker called for a review of the agency.
DCFS also announced it has a new practice model focused on child and family team meetings on top of trying to reduce caseloads by hiring more staff.

Not only are facilitators hoping this will better today’s caseworkers, they are also looking forward to this helping the industry’s future.

“We need a sustainable workforce so our communities are better served. When you have rapid turnover, people who aren’t prepared to go out and do the job very well, they get overwhelmed and they leave,” said Susan Evans, executive director of the Child Protection Training Academy. “We need people who will stick it out and build those relationships so we have a sustainable workforce and sustainable community and serve children and families better.”

The training is made possible through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) federal grant. All three U of I campuses collaborated to teach workers in their first statewide project.