Winona State University Facility Designed to Train Professionals who Protect Children

February 14, 2017 10:39 PM

The child protection system is made up of far more people than just case workers.

It includes police officers, doctors, nurses, attorneys, judges, and every single person responsible for making decisions to protect children at risk.


Not all of those professions train on working with vulnerable kids. But in Winona, Minnesota, there is a place where those lessons can be learned.

Victor Vieth has made training child protection professionals his life's work. He founded the nation's first child protection-specific training center at Winona State University.

"Education is the heart and soul of the child protection system," he said. "If we don't invest into that, it doesn't matter what other fixes we make."

In all 50 states and 17 countries, more than 100,000 child protection professionals, from nurses and doctors to police to case workers, attorneys and judges, have gone through training programs at the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center.

It's equipped with a mock house, a mock courtroom and requisite items from belts to fake blood, to help those in the system or in school planning to enter a profession in the system practice protecting children.

"The whole world would change if we had a better investment in educating the folks who determine who lives and who dies on the front lines of the child protection system," Vieth said.

He believes there currently isn't enough emphasis on making sure those working within child protection, from the bottom up, have all the knowledge they need to evolve, follow through with necessary changes, and ultimately create a better system.

"We've got law schools graduating people who will be judges and prosecutors and public defenders who deal with children all the time but we're not teaching them child development," Vieth said. "We're not teaching the ethics of working with a child witness. So we get out into the field and what do you expect?"

Vieth said fixing the flaws and having the right tools to examine these complex cases should start before the investigation even begins. That means before the first report comes in and long before walking through the door.

"It isn't going to make a difference if the people who are responding, the people who are prosecuting, the people who are judging these cases are not trained at an extraordinarily high level," he said. "It's a choice and we have to decide what choice we want to make."

According to the Department of Human Services, new child protection workers must complete 93 hours of competency-based training during their first six months of employment.

However, that's only required of the new workers in the system. Those standards don't apply to the police officers and other professionals who are also involved in helping kids.

Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill in December 2015 to create more training centers across the country just like the one in Winona.

However, according to Sen. Klobuchar's office, that legislation hasn't yet made it through congress.



Katherine Johnson

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