April 25, 2019  

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Child Advocacy Studies Minor Takes Interdisciplinary Approach to Addressing Maltreatment Issues

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A statewide effort to combat, and bring awareness to, the problem of child maltreatment has an ally in The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

USM’s Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) minor, offered through its School of Social Work, is open to all majors at the university and has close curriculum ties with social work, criminal justice, psychology, education and other disciplines whose graduates enter careers providing services to children.

The 18-hour CAST minor is currently the only of its kind at one of the state's public universities, and was inspired by an initiative formed jointly by Children’s Advocacy Centers of Mississippi and the State Attorney General’s Office to recognize and address child maltreatment through higher education. The minor’s curriculum is designed to prepare future professionals with an understanding of child maltreatment, childhood trauma and important developmental issues. 

Dr. Tamara Hurst, an assistant professor of social work at USM who played a key role in the development of the CAST minor, said it’s important for students in these fields to be around other disciplines to understand their code of ethics, and in this way be able to work efficiently together after graduation.

“We all have our own focus, but we have to work together for the benefit of the child, and we won’t make improvements in this area if we don’t work together,” Dr. Hurst said. “For example, in a child abuse situation, you need to know why those in social work, or medicine, or law enforcement do the things they do in their response.”

Dr. Lisa Nored, director of the USM School of Criminal Justice, provided input in the development of the CAST minor. She said USM seized the opportunity to engage and embrace the CAST movement by utilizing academic resources from many disciplines at the university that allowed it to be responsive to the request, and create and integrate CAST training for its students. 

“Children are our most vulnerable citizens and are often without a voice,” Dr. Nored said. “The CAST minor allows USM to provide a valuable interdisciplinary academic opportunity for our students, and have a meaningful role in ensuring the safety of children.” 

Understanding the warning signs and avenues for appropriate intervention is critical in child maltreatment situations, Dr. Nored continued. Mandatory legal and ethical reporting of suspected maltreatment is a core component of the program, and ensures that participants understand that reporting is not optional, but rather a legal duty.

“Often, it is a teacher, nurse, counselor or police officer who initially encounters the subtle signs of a child in trouble,” she said. “It’s that nagging feeling that something is just not right. Having professionals armed with both the awareness and substantive knowledge to recognize, understand and act can often save a child’s life.” 

Outside of Mississippi, USM’s CAST minor has not gone unnoticed. “Mississippi is a model for taking big steps toward addressing this issue,” Dr. Hurst said. “When other states are looking at how to implement this in their universities, they look at what we’re doing.”

For more information about the CAST minor, visit the USM School of Social Work at https://www.usm.edu/social-work.