COLUMBUS, Miss.--On Monday, Amber Clinton-Saunders could be a judge.
On Wednesday, Clinton-Saunders, a senior family studies major at the Mississippi University for Women, could be cast as an investigator.
The role-playing Clinton-Saunders does in the Child Advocacy Studies Training (CAST) program is one of things she likes best about the studies preparing her for her first job as a professional.
“Instead of hearing Dr. (Dorothy) Berglund talk about a case or go in depth about it, it was more like you play this role and you have to turn into that role as a judge or as an investigator,” Clinton-Saunders said. “It was reality and applying that in a classroom setting. It just worked better with retaining the knowledge we will need. I love it.”
Clinton-Saunders, a senior family studies major from Jackson, and Brooke Ann Duett, a senior family studies major from Columbus, have taken three of the four CAST classes in the program. Both students anticipate taking the fourth class in the spring semester.
Last spring, the Undergraduate Curriculum Council (UCC) approved a new certificate program in CAST. The program will be offered through family studies. The inter-disciplinary program includes FS 295, Perspectives in child abuse & advocacy; HED 326, Global health: Child advocacy issues; FS 392, Families in crisis and rehabilitation; and PLG 395, Legal system response to child maltreatment. The classes give students in child-serving professions the training to recognize and respond appropriately to child maltreatment.
In March, the family studies major was re-accredited through March 2024. It has been accredited since 2004 to offer courses leading to certification for graduates of The W to be provisional family life educators.
Dr. Berglund, a certified family life educator, is a professor of family studies and the chair of The W’s Department of Psychology & Family Studies, which is in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. She is the new certificate program coordinator for CAST.
“It is not only for people who are going to work in child mistreatment. It is for anybody who may be working with people who have experienced trauma,” Berglund said. “We talk a lot about trauma. It could be multiple divorces or remarriages in the family or a lot of moves.”
Berglund said the CAST program is designed to prepare students for work in child advocacy, which includes foster care and child maltreatment (child protection services). She said it also has applications for students in fields that serve children, like nursing, education, family studies, speech and language pathology, psychology, so they can detect and respond accordingly to suspected child mistreatment.
CAST originated at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. The curriculum brings the Zero Abuse Project, a 501 (c) (3) organization that is committed to the elimination of child sexual abuse., to reality.
Berglund said her involvement with CAST stems from a lecture of Victor Vieth she attended several years ago in Mississippi. She realized CAST could have applications to adult victimization and sexual assault on campus, which motivated her to bring it back to The W.
“It is not just something students might be interested in,” Berglund said. “It is also something good for the community and the university.”
Clinton-Saunders said she “loved” the three CAST classes because they provided skills she will use in her work at a child advocacy center in the state of Mississippi, at Child Protective Services, in a shelter or in education. The classes also can be applied to every-day life to make sure she and those around her are doing everything right.
“Our activities and projects are applying it to our daily lives,” Clinton-Saunders said. “There are skills like problem solving and being creative with how you go about making the right decision for the child and their family.”
Duett said the hands-on activities, role playing and simulations engage students better than just reading a text book or listening to a lecture. She said Dr. Berglund gives students opportunities to think through situations and then offers suggestions as to how their roles could be affected. Duett added that process is helpful because there are so many steps and things people have to consider when dealing with the welfare of a child.
“Hands-on took it a lot further for me. It made it a lot more real than me sitting and reading about it,” said Duett, who hopes to work in a child advocacy center. “I learn better through hands-on, so I think it is all how you learn the best. To me, being able to work through something rather than how others have worked through it made it a lot more real and it was easier to understand.
“The CAST program is a huge benefit to the program. Dr. Berglund and the other have done really well with it and have made it seem like real life.”
KatyMay Malone (public health education) and Ashley Chisolm (legal studies) have helped the CAST program fulfill the interdisciplinary aspect of the curriculum. Berglund said The W already offered courses that applied, like Family in Crisis, that were the initial ones in a three- to four-year process it took to develop The W’s program. She said new courses can be added that might benefit the program in the future.
“It was a sense of accomplishment putting together the resources and the people we already have because CAST programs require an interdisciplinary approach,” Berglund said. “We had to find out what was already out there and put it together in creative ways.”
As part of a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) grant, Berglund said The W can do training for community members. She said that work will spread the word about child advocacy.
Berglund also said The W has partnered with Mississippi State University to give students an opportunity to take CAST classes in Starkville so they can get their certificate in a school year.
Clinton-Saunders will be one of the first students at The W to complete the four CAST classes and to earn recognition as a provisional Certified Life Educator (CFLE). She knows she and her peers will be prepared when they enter the work force.
“They are some of the best professors I have had,” Clinton-Saunders said. “The hands-on experience is the best thing they could offer to us, and I am grateful they did that for us because I know a lot of students who are social work or family studies majors at other colleges and it is just paper, book, and PowerPoints. It is not actual interaction. It is like we are a little family and we all bounce off each other.”