“Share your story because you just never know
who might be going through what you’re going through.”
“The Crowns I Wear” Deidre Silas, 2020
Deidre Graham Silas was laid to rest this past weekend, in a beautiful service that intentionally celebrated the life she lived, rather than the circumstances that tragically ended her life on January 5th. But to fully understand this reflective piece it is sadly necessary to point out how Deidre’s life was ended – because the details of her murder while responding to an allegation of child maltreatment must be the catalyst for change, as Deidre’s husband implored during a television interview he gave.
Deidre started her career with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services last August, after completing Foundation Training to become a Child Protection Specialist for the Department. Deidre’s Foundation Training also included a component of simulation training, facilitated by our Child Protection Training Academy team on the UIS campus. It was in the simulation component that our team met Deidre, recognizing both her enthusiasm for her new role as an investigator and her interpersonal skills in the client engagement simulation scenario. The team had this to say: “We immediately recognized Deidre’s passion, vibrancy, and warmth. We saw a new worker who was skillful and compassionate; a woman with confidence and gusto for learning more. Her gentle personality is still vivid in our minds and gave us great hope for her success in protecting children.”
We only have 4 days in simulation with our new investigators, but we use that time to create as many situations and risks as possible to replicate what a worker might expect to encounter in the field. The scenarios in the simulation lab not only allow the trainee to address the allegations with the family members but they also should raise red flags about the worker’s own safety in their environment. It is on this aspect of the simulation training that the events of the last few weeks have painfully refocused our attention. Painfully, because five years ago, another DCFS trainee who completed simulation training lost her life attempting to remove a young child from an abusive situation. Pam Knight’s brutal attack and death in 2017 prompted numerous discussions on the advisability of investigators conducting investigations without a colleague or law enforcement officer, sending them instead to knock on doors with only a modicum of background information about who they might encounter behind closed doors.
We find ourselves at this moment once again, grieving the loss of a wonderful colleague, mom, daughter and wife. We are galvanized and motivated to navigate the landscape of child protection, searching for every possible strategy that could prevent additional tragedies. For Deidre, for Pam, for all of the investigators who have made the decision to pursue this critically important and challenging work protecting children – we are committed to finding and implementing solutions, working with DCFS and all stakeholders to safeguard the workforce through meaningful change. Our passion for this work, the result of our own experiences as investigators, will continue to move us forward in this pursuit, exploring the feasibility of all possible improvements. It is the very least we can do.
Dr. Betsy Goulet is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Child Advocacy Studies Coordinator in the UIS College of Public Affairs & Administration and the Director of the Alliance for Experiential Problem-Based Learning at the UIS Center for State Policy and Leadership.
Amy Wheeler is the Director of the UIS Child Protection Training Academy.