LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)Tragic cases like the death of Gabriel Fernandez have triggered major changes at the Department of Children and Family Services.

KCAL9’s Cristy Fajardo reports new social workers in Los Angeles County are undergoing a different type of training to simulate real-world conditions.

“You forget that there’s an audience and there’s people and you are actually in the moment,” student Aaron Gray said, his classroom partially staged to look like an apartment, where a deputy played the part of an aggressive boyfriend and another instructor, a drugged-out mom.

The program is part of a new partnership between the department and Cal State L.A. in an effort to give new social workers more real-life experience in the classroom.

“Other professions do it, right? Airline pilots use a flight simulator. Law enforcement, military, all use simulation as a training tool,” Cal State L.A. Child Welfare Director Harkmore Lee said.

Until a year ago, recruits in L.A. County learned only from lectures and textbooks.

The social workers now go through 10 weeks of intense training scrutinized not only by DCFS administrators but also by a law enforcement consultant who helps to fine-tune their investigative techniques.

“You’re dealing with a human element. Sometimes, these houses aren’t stable that they’re going into. And again, you don’t know what’s inside that house. You have no idea. And that’s part of the safety thing that we’re teaching them is assessing,” law enforcement consultant Warren Ondajte said.

The training also involves simulations of an emergency room and a suspicious injury, and allows social workers to question real-life nurses.

Fajardo reports it’s too soon to say if the simulations are having an effect out in the field, but a spokesperson for Cal State L.A. said new social workers do appear to be remembering more of what they’ve learned.

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