Child welfare workers across the state got a taste of everything from methodologies for investigating sexual abuse to how to deal with stress during the first-ever Child Welfare Institute in Park City this week.
Division of Family Services implemented the five-day conference in compliance with the 1994 Child Welfare Reform Act, mandating caseworkers and supervisors receive a minimum of 40 hours of training annually.Hundreds of service employees, foster parents and mental health workers gathered in small, stuffy rooms to get "energized" on the latest information and to sharpen their skills and abilities, said Pat Rothermich, director of the institute.
Patricia Worthington, a participant, said the information gave her new insights and ideas that will increase her abilities at work. As project coordinator for the foster care citizen review board, Worthington said the classes on decision making changed the way she will look at things in the future.
"It's a mind shift in a way, because the class taught to make decisions by weighing the advantages instead of looking at the pros and cons," she said. "It's a matter of choosing from the positives - making the negatives irrelevant."
Keynote speaker Sol Gothard, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judge from Louisiana, discussed sexual abuse. He explained myths concerning sexual abuse, suggested methods for investigation and addressed proper tactics for prevailing as a court witness.
Studies have shown that white, educated, high-wage earners and churchgoing individuals are more likely to have involvement with incest, he said. Community members have a hard time believing their successful neighbors are sexual abusers. But the abuse may be more prevalent than people realize - 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men have been sexually abused nationally, he said.
"This does not mean one out of every four fathers is an abuser," he said. "Abuse comes from many sources including other caretakers, Boy Scouts, day-care centers, church members - not just in the home. It's important to remember that no child ever dies from being cautious."
Investigating instances of abuse requires more than routine questioning. Most of the time children easily recall traumatic memory and will answer honestly if properly interviewed, he said. Children shouldn't be probed with questions, but simple conversation could lead to information that a child is being treated inappropriately.
"Judging the credibility of kids' statements about sexual abuse requires victims to give a description of the time and place and what the victim and perpetrator were wearing," he said. "Any changes in behavior such as an A student going to a C student (are also indications of abuse.) Lastly, look at the child's recollection of the abuse - let the children answer for themselves."
As a veteran social worker and lawyer, Gothard addressed an audience of more than 300 on being a witness in a sexual abuse trial. As a witness, welfare workers must be objective and accurate, he said. Defense attorneys will do anything to question authority or create tension.
"Lawyers are trained to counteract a witness with aggressiveness," he said. "Social workers must have the right mind set, understand the laws and have standards of proof to prevail over that aggressiveness."