CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Jan. 26, 2015 – Southeast Missouri State University senior Halston Hutchison of St. Louis, Missouri, knows that identifying the warning signs of child abuse and neglect will be critical as she enters the world of social work.
“I chose to start the child advocacy certification because I plan to work with children throughout my social work career whether they are my clients or if I am volunteering at facilities that aid children,” said the social work major. “I hope this certificate will help my career as a social worker to know the laws and protection orders surrounding children’s rights as well as safety.”
Halston is among the first group of students taking advantage of Southeast’s new Child Advocacy Certificate Program, which prepares students to advocate on behalf of the needs of children as victims and survivors of child abuse.
The certificate is providing additional training for students with majors in the College of Health and Human Services, particularly social work majors, who, in Missouri, will become mandated reporters in their fields because of their contact with children.
“We wanted to offer additional training and knowledge as to how to recognize and respond to suspected child abuse and neglect,” said Tiffany Parker, instructor of social work at Southeast.
“Our College wants to be part of the nationwide effort to provide training to as many students as possible so that early and appropriate intervention can be provided to abused and neglected children and their caregivers,” Parker said. “We know that the very best practice standards require a commitment of all professionals involved with the care of children, to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for children.”
Many cases involving the abuse and neglect of children go unreported, or there are significant delays in reporting, even when mandated reporters are involved in the child’s life, she said.
“It is not from a lack of caring, but often from a lack of knowing what to do and when,” she said. “We want this information in the hands of as many people as possible so that the response is timely and appropriate.”
Students completing the certificate program are expected to “leave with a solid grasp of laws and statutes which govern children abuse and neglect – both at the national and state levels,” she said. “We also want students to know the fundamentals of how to recognize potential abuse and neglect, characteristics of potential abusers, how to respond and who to call.”
The program is designed to help students understand “how the system works and the various players involved – law enforcement, medical providers, child protection workers, child advocacy centers, juvenile courts and service providers,” Parker said.
Any student who has completed 45 credit hours or who has the consent of individual instructors may participate. Professionals in the community who already have a degree but wish to seek the certificate may apply as well, Parker said.
Students must complete three courses to earn the certificate, she said. The courses and the requirements for the certificate were developed by an interdisciplinary committee of Southeast faculty from nursing, criminal justice, social work and child development. The courses will be taught by faculty from the departments, said Dr. Shelba Branscum, chair of the Department of Human Environmental Studies.
In the first course, students must contact an agency which provides services to children and identify a need which the student could help address and then design a way to advocate for getting that need met. In the second course, students gain experience with how interviews of potential victims should be conducted, the courtroom process and testifying. In the third course, students become familiar with various types of services and appropriate responses to those who have been victims of child abuse and neglect as well as their families.
The coursework focuses on developing students’ understanding of factors that lead to child maltreatment and existing responses to incidents of child maltreatment. The goal is to educate students on working more effectively with various systems and institutions that respond to these incidents, Parker said.
“Students learn about the various disciplinary responses to child maltreatment and develop a multidisciplinary understanding of the most effective responses,” she said. “Students completing the courses in this program will be better equipped to carry out the work of various agencies and systems — healthcare, criminal justice, social services — as they advocate on behalf of the needs of children as victims and survivors of child abuse.
“Research shows that universities seldom prepare students for the reality of child protection even in the disciplines from which these graduates will be mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect,” Parker said. “Successful professional training will produce child maltreatment professionals who will be knowledgeable enough to competently manage child maltreatment cases.”
The Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center on the campus of Winona (Minn.) State University trains faculty from across the country to teach child advocacy courses that provide students with real-world experience in a classroom setting. Southeast’s College of Health and Human Services submitted a proposal to be selected for participation in the program in spring 2012, Parker said, and faculty participated in the training that summer. Each year, 20 universities are selected to receive training at Winona State University for one week during the summer. Southeast began offering its first course last summer.