A new social work simulation centre is poised to increase knowledge and empathy in children’s mental health care

Empathy is often talked about in terms of “making space” for another. For a child with mental health challenges to feel safe sharing their experiences, an empathetic ear has to be immediate and infinite. A new simulation centre in UCalgary’s Faculty of Social Work (FSW) will ensure future social workers are practiced and prepared to make such emotional space for kids, with exceptional presence and compassion.

Simulation-based training is the practice of structured role-play between students and trained actors in order to replicate potential real-life scenarios. The method has long been standard practice in professions such as medicine and nursing. In recent years, it’s become increasingly valued as an effective way of teaching and measuring critical social-work skills. A new simulation training program puts FSW at the forefront of cutting-edge social-work education in Canada.

Led by the Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health, Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD, the simulation program will provide a “real” environment for trainees in the area of children’s mental health to learn and practice. Building off important simulation work being done at the Cumming School of Medicine, the method will enable students to develop practice-knowledge and skills in a safe setting, prior to using them in real-life situations.

Students need opportunities to learn, refine and develop deep, evidence-based competencies.

— Dean Jackie Sieppert

“Traditionally, social workers achieve such skill development through years of direct practice, with supervision from skilled clinicians within practicum and employment settings,” says Jenney. “The use of simulation allows in-the-moment coaching and evaluation for students to try new skills and to make mistakes. Developing the simulations in partnership with the clinical expertise of staff at Wood’s Homes further enriches the learning experience by bringing practice-wisdom into the equation.”

The program, set to launch next fall, is made possible by a gift from alumnus Eric Axford, BA’87, and his wife, Diane. Eric has served as a board member for Wood’s Homes for nearly a decade and, he says, “has seen first-hand the amazing work of both of these incredible institutions.” He adds that he and Diane are “so excited to support the Energize campaign and help spark this new joint innovation.”

Dr. Jackie Sieppert, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Social Work, says the program will enrich safe, hands-on teaching and learning opportunities for students. “With Angelique’s expert guidance, our faculty is poised to lead nationally and internationally in the area of simulation in social-work education,” says Sieppert. “Students need opportunities to learn, refine and develop deep, evidence-based competencies in their future work with children with mental health challenges.” That, he adds, “is how we will prepare graduates who have the knowledge and empathy to make a fundamental difference for those children  and their families.”

The new Faculty of Social Work simulation program is scheduled to launch in 2019 in the newly redesigned MacKimmie Complex, thanks to a gift from Eric Axford, BA’87, and his wife, Diane.

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