The Development of a Computer Simulated Child Abuse Screening Tool (CSI-CAST)

COIL is proud to support the The Development of a Computer Simulated Child Abuse Screening Tool (CSI-CAST) project through our Research Initiation Grant Program.


In 2015, there were 117,772 substantiated cases of child physical abuse (CPA) in the United States. Research suggests that 28% of children experience CPA during their lifetime. Before starting school, health care settings may be the only setting children encounter staff who are mandated to report CPA. Medical and nursing students have expressed frustration and anxiety about their lack of training regarding indicators of CPA (knowledge) and procedure for responding to suspected abuse (behaviors). Lack of trained professionals represents a missed opportunity for preceptors and mentors to educate students to identify and respond to CPA. The Computer Simulated Interactive Child Abuse Screening Tool (CSI-CAST) project will consist of a simulation (assessment phase) and online training component (training phase) to assess and train users to diagnose and respond to CPA. A prototype of the simulation exists, in which, users will conduct virtual examinations where multiple contextual cues related to CPA are present (assessment phase). Based on user actions in the assessment phase, personalized online training modules will load. The development team is currently in the formative evaluation stage of prototype development but the end goal is to disseminate training to improve competence in assessing and responding to suspected CPA.


  • Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin, Ph.D. (PI): Professor of Psychology, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Penn State Behrend
  • Heather J. Risser, Ph.D.: Assistant Professor, Associate Director of the Mental Health Services and Policy Program, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
  • Christopher Shelton, M.A.: Clinical Psychology Doctoral Candidate, University of Wyoming
  • Richard Zhao, Ph.D.: Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering, School of Engineering, Penn State Behrend


Melanie Hetzel-Riggin HeadshotMelanie D. Hetzel-Riggin




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