On September 24, the University of South Carolina School of Law held a dedication ceremony for the Children’s Law Center’s new training space, forever changing how child welfare professionals are educated in the state.
We will use [these facilities] to train frontline professionals who work with the most vulnerable children and families in society.
“This day has been over a decade in the making,” said Michelle Dhunjishah, director of the center. “We will use [these facilities] to train frontline professionals who work with the most vulnerable children and families in society. I love that we now have a beautiful space for those professionals to learn and collaborate.”
The training center is located in the former Church of Christ, Scientist building on Pickens Street, directly across from the School of Law. It includes a large central instructional area that can convert to a courtroom, where mock trials will help everyone from lawyers and judges to police officers and social workers simulate actual hearings. In the basement of the building is a fully functional apartment, which will stage a variety of scenarios for child protection workers to assess and for forensic investigators to examine.
In both areas, adult actors can play the part of family members—including children—providing an immersive experience that will feel real for the trainees, whether a lawyer cross-examining a witness or an officer called to the scene of a domestic disturbance.
During the ceremony, Michael Leach, state director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services, relayed his excitement for the opening of the training center, saying it will effectively mimic the conditions frontline case managers and other seasoned professionals will routinely encounter while performing their daily duties in the field or in court.
We have to have that experiential learning. We have to have settings where folks can work with actors… who are really creating an environment that feels real.
“When you see normal training areas, you see tables and chairs and boards and things like that. That doesn’t cut it these days,” said Leach. “We have to have that experiential learning. We have to have settings where folks can work with actors… who are really creating an environment that feels real.”
The renovations were made possible by a lead gift of $1 million from law school alumnus Joe Rice ’79, his wife Lisa, and their daughter Ann E. Rice Ervin.
“Their leadership gift made this possible, said William Hubbard, dean of South Carolina Law. “It would not have happened if they had not stepped up and provided that kind of leadership. We are so grateful for them.”
The Children’s Law Center already provides annual training to more than 10,000 professionals in justice, law enforcement, and child welfare across the state. Now that the center has opened, Dhunjishah said there is even more opportunity for growth. “I think our new facility could eventually become a training destination for professionals in the Southeast.”