Providing Results: Mississippi CAST Initiative
Eighteen months into a two-year evaluation project, the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi (CAC) is discovering valuable data to support their Children’s Advocacy Studies (CAST) Initiative. With the help of University of Illinois’s research team, the preliminary data has reinforced the significance of CAST courses at participating Mississippi colleges and universities.
A two-year study was launched in August 2019 and completes this summer. The study focuses on surveys and interviews from CAST instructors regarding implementing the program and the impact of the courses from students that have graduated from the CAST program. Twelve of the 28 Mississippi CAST colleges and universities are participating in the study which compares the results of students and faculty from eight schools that have implemented CAST to four schools with CAST-trained faculty that have yet to implement the CAST curriculum.
A survey link was sent to instructors in CAST and non-CAST courses at the end of the semester in December 2019 and April 2020, and forwarded to students. The initial survey sample included 97 CAST students and 94 non-CAST students. Additionally, a pre-course survey for CAST students was conducted in February 2020 and compared against their April post-course survey. Further data was collected in August and December 2020 and will be added to the data set at the completion of the study as well as data from the last sample set to be collected in April 2021.
Overall, CAST students rated their skills higher, had more child protection knowledge, and demonstrated better judgement in assessing abuse and family behavior versus maltreatment. The students also indicated they had a better understanding regarding what happens in a child abuse investigation and were able to identify more organizations likely to be involved.
A critical component to CAST is the simulations which give the students practical application experience to help them better prepare for their future careers. Both faculty and students report positive experiences with CAST, in particular the simulations.
In 2019, CAC opened Mississippi’s only training center dedicated to child advocacy studies simulation training. The Child Advocacy Training Institute (CATI) located in Jackson, Mississippi, is utilized by CAST programs, multidisciplinary teams, criminal justice professionals and all child advocacy organizations across the state for educational and real-world simulation purposes. The center accommodates multiple live scenarios simultaneously which are modeled after real-life cases. This hands-on training is necessary before entering the work field and vital to the success of child advocacy centers as they impact children across the state of Mississippi.
CAST is growing in Mississippi as more schools prepare to teach CAST courses, participating CAST schools increase certificate and minor programs, and expand to additional departments. As the evaluation period ends in June, three to four journal articles will be available based on the results.