September 5, 2019By Lance Baily

Department of Children and Family Services Uses Simulation to Train Investigators

Recently the Chicago Sun Times reported on how the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is utilizing Clinical Simulation to train child service investigators. Such powerful use cases for medical simulation must be considered by every department and institution engaging with patient health, whether it be in a clinical setting or not. Let’s take a closer look at this program report to see how we too can use simulation in other ways!

Experts say the Illinois child welfare agency, under fire after some high-profile deaths of children, has become a national standout for giving workers who investigate child abuse claims hands-on training. The troubling scene inside the dingy Chicago apartment seems real. There are dangling and exposed wires, open pill bottles near a sleeping baby and a kitchen strewn with dog feces and cockroaches. But the apartment — with a lifelike infant doll, candles emitting foul smells and plastic insects — actually is part of a new simulation lab to train workers who investigate child abuse claims in Illinois.

“Sometimes textbooks, they sugarcoat things,” said Beth Brown of Murphysboro, who recently trained at the “dirty apartment.” “Teachers sugarcoat things. But this is real life. This is what you’re going to experience.”


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llinois’ use of such experiential training focused on child welfare workers is being cited by experts as a national leader as the state plans to expand with a third simulation lab and university experts write new research on the topic. But the accolades come as the agency faces serious systemic deficiencies, with some of its investigators under fire for high-profile deaths — including a 5-year-old suburban boy this year. The agency is under multiple court orders, for issues including high caseloads, leading the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and others to question the expansion.

“Training is a great thing, but all the training in the world isn’t going to fix the foundational problems that DCFS is struggling with,” said ACLU attorney Heidi Dalenberg, who was involved in the caseloads court order. More than 700 front-line employees have undergone simulation training in Illinois, with hundreds more expected to do so. Child investigators and experts say it’s valuable preparation for a dangerous, high-burnout job at the heart of child protective work.

The use of simulation training isn’t unusual for first-responders. Many medical schools have opened multimillion-dollar facilities. But it’s a newer concept in child welfare, said Victor Vieth, who has trained child protective workers nationwide. The first child welfare simulation labs emerged about 15 years ago at universities. Dozens have since added them, and it has spread to state agencies.

More than 60 employees have trained at the Chicago lab. Investigators are taught to look for possible issues as they follow up on abuse claims, for instance asking about the open pill bottles near the baby or checking whether televisions are anchored to protect young children.


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Some experts think the simulation training could help, particularly with burnout. Illinois researchers are studying data from the centers. UIS professor Betsy Goulet, who helped design the centers, said early signs suggest trainees are less likely to leave. For Brown, 40, the simulations are refreshing after the classroom. “It’s not something that a teacher can tell you what to do,” Brown said. “This is something you need to experience in order to get better and understand the job.”

Read the Full Chicago Sun Times Story Here!


Does your healthcare institution use simulation in interesting ways? Email us or share your story today!

(Image: Victor Lasko, an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services official, points to a bruise on a doll used for for training new child service investigators in simulations at a lab in Englewood. Taken by AP.)


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