Richelle Moore took a deep breath before stepping into the home. She knew what she was about to see would impact her. She also knew how she handled it could save a child’s life.
As she walked into the master bedroom, careful not to touch anything, she closely examined pills and other drug-related items scattered around. Moore scanned through the search history on the home computer and took note of sexual paraphernalia that was left out in the open. A report of child abuse had been called on the parents of the house, where three small children lived.
“I didn’t want to miss anything,” says Moore, who is a psychology and early education major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “These children are depending on me to find out the truth and make them safe.”
Although it’s set up to look like a real house, the site is a training tool for UMSL’s Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis.
Dubbed the “mock-house,” it’s a simulation laboratory and part of the newest location of the center. CASGSL provides specialized individual, group and family counseling to children affected by traumatic events including sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect.
The new CASGSL opened in August and consists of homes at 121 and 115 W. Monroe Ave. in Kirkwood, Mo.
“This will be a collocated site so we will have forensic interviews as well as our clinical services here,” says Jerry Dunn, director of CASGSL at UMSL.
The bigger house features a waiting area, therapy rooms, offices, a conference room and classroom space. The conference room allows for officials to monitor and record therapy sessions from another room. The adjacent smaller house is the mock-house.
“It will give our students the chance to go on a home visit of a reported child abuse or neglect case,” Dunn says. “Coming into a scene like this can be shocking for anyone. By simulating scenarios, some more obvious than others, we’re preparing our students for real-world assessments.”
With only three others like it in the United States, the mock-house is a unique training tool and asset to the Children’s Advocacy Studies Program. Dorothy Denny, licensed clinical social worker and CAST program coordinator, agrees.
“The first year is the biggest challenge for individuals in child-serving fields,” Denny says. “That is when they decide either this is too much or they make the commitment to do it and really do it well.”
The Kirkwood site not only adds the simulator, but it will help increase the number of area families helped by CASGSL, which serves more than 800 children and families annually.
CASGSL’s main location is housed on the university’s South Campus in the Kathy J. Weinman Advocacy Centre, and the second site is on West Pine Boulevard in the Central West End neighborhood in St. Louis.
“This new site will allow us to serve an entire section of the region that maybe, due to location or our limitations in space, were not served by the center before,” Dunn says. “Our motto is ‘Giving children voices. Helping families heal.’ And this will allow us to do that even more.”
This story was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.