The Central California Social Welfare, Research, Evaluation and Training Center at Fresno State is the recipient of a $4.3 million grant to further develop its Central California Adult Protective Service Training Academy. The three-year grant, from the California State Department of Social Services, will be used to better prepare and train staff who work within adult protective services in the San Joaquin Valley and Bay Area regions.

The training academy currently develops and provides core and advanced training to educate the region’s 360 adult protective services workers in the Central California and Bay Area regions, which span 24 counties from Santa Barbara to Sonoma.

Both regions are home to nearly 1.2 million elder and dependent adults — numbers that continue to grow. With more access to training, there will be more ways to assist an often overlooked population, which includes adults over 65 and adults ages 18-64 who have physical or mental limitations.

“They’re calling it the silver tsunami,” said Debbie Blankenship, project director of the Adult Protective Services Training Academy. “The older population is growing, so we need to really better train our social workers in adult protective services to work with our elderly to ensure that abused and vulnerable elders receive effective and high-quality interventions and services.”

Types of elder abuse prevalent in the Central California region include physical, sexual, financial  and emotional abuse, as well as neglect. With the grant, Blankenship and her team will implement a series of in-person and online training programs aimed at these areas and also take a new, more high-tech approach using virtual reality — a first for the region.

“The goal is to train adult protective services staff with the right skills needed to handle various situations,” Blankenship said. “Through a virtual environment, adult protective services workers would be able to walk into a situation that mimics a real-life scenario. It’s an opportunity for our social service workers to be put in that environment without actually being there. It’s good preparation that goes beyond what you can read in a book or learning guide. This has the potential to be a real game changer for the Central California and Bay Area regions.”

Blankenship said that staff will be immersed into different virtual experiences and learn the appropriate ways to handle situations based on the training and curriculum development they’ve acquired through the training program.

The virtual reality model is still in the planning stages, but it is expected to roll out in the next several months using software from Embodied Labs — an immersive learning system that provides access to a library of virtual experiences that simulate key problems and situations facing older adults and their caregivers. The goal of the lab is to give the user a peek into their client’s lived experiences through immersive virtual reality learning.

In addition to the experiential simulation provided for social workers, the virtual-based model can be utilized by Fresno State students studying social work and gerontology and has the potential to become a part of their learning experience and internships.

A virtual statewide Adult Protective Services convening, in partnership with the Child and Family Policy Institute of California, is also in the works for Sept. 29. The convening will bring together leaders in adult protective services, including the California Department of Social Services, the County Welfare Directors Association of California, regional training academies, and other partners and stakeholders, to plan for the development of a robust and effective statewide training plan and core curriculum for social workers and supervisors specializing in adult protective services.

“The intent is to build upon and enhance the current training offerings and delivery systems in place, as well as identify support systems needed for a successful statewide training and sustained funding,” Blankenship said.

Through the Adult Protective Services Training Academy, annual needs assessments are used to plan and develop training for the counties served. The courses continue to evolve and reflect changes and demands in the area of elder and dependent adult abuse.

To learn more about the virtual reality model or the upcoming Adult Protective Services convening, contact Blankenship at

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