Social workers are using VR to experience the lives of children in care

A trial conducted by social enterprise The Cornerstone Partnership has yielded promising results in enabling social care workers to better understand the trauma of children in care

As virtual reality (VR) technology continues to improve the lives of the elderly and those in palliative care, researchers studying the positive impacts it can have on young people have found that the technology is overwhelmingly beneficial for children in the social care system.

A year-long trial that saw virtual reality programs implemented across multiple local authorities and social care organisations in the UK has shown that immersive VR experiences used in social care training enabled frontline staff to gain a better understanding of the trauma and neglect children in care have experienced.

This, in turn, led to improvements in the communication between children and their carers.

Conducted by social enterprise The Cornerstone Partnership, the trial consisted of a 12 episode virtual reality library that allowed carers and social care professionals to experience the traumatic events children in care may have been through, such as neglect, domestic abuse and other major family issues.

“We’ve spent 18 months developing and perfecting the application of VR in order to shift understanding and alter engrained behaviours across a raft of settings in children’s social care,” said Helen Costa, Cornerstone CEO. “The outcomes for children who are in or have been in care are significantly worse than their peers across all key areas; education, health, career, rough-sleeping and mental health.”

In preliminary results, nine out of 10 participants in Cornerstone’s trial reported that they believe the technology can change the perspective of carers and adopters, leading to improvements in recruitment and increasing placement stability. A majority of social workers felt using Cornerstone’s VR technology also helped improve their own understanding of trauma experienced by young people in care.

Most participants in the trial felt that Cornerstone’s VR library provided them with skills and knowledge that will enable quicker decision making, while 40 per cent said that it helped them gain insights and develop skills that would lead to better decisions when dealing with young people.

Cornerstone’s results are echoed across the virtual reality industry, where evidence is mounting that VR can boost empathy for homelessness, aid in the mental recovery of those suffering with PTSD, and help people living with dementia.

As the number of young people in social and foster care rises, coupled with a shortage of workers available to look care for children with complex and challenging needs, Cornerstone believes using virtual reality to train workers will ultimately revolutionise social care settings.

“VR is showing how step changes in approach and attitude are possible. The VR which has been developed and applied by Cornerstone shows how foster carers, adoptive carers and parents can understand the impact of major family issues like neglect and domestic abuse much quicker and in a much deeper way through being immersed in a VR experience, than is possible through conventional learning programmes,” said Anthony Douglas, chair of Cornerstone’s Advisory Board.

“I strongly believe that VR can have as similar positive impact on many of the social issues we face in Britain today, like excessive alcohol consumption, obesity, gambling addiction and crimes against the person. If courageous investments are made, the long-term savings both in expenditure and human misery will in my view be high.”

A panel of experts, hosted by Immerse UK and Cornerstone, will now examine the opportunities being presented by virtual reality and how they are set to become mainstream tools in public services, particularly social care and public health.

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