Other parts of this series:
- Go ahead and wonder: How can we accelerate outcomes for children and families?
- Beyond the eye: Achieving better outcomes with a holistic view of child welfare services
- Overcoming passion fatigue with design-thinking, data and insights to improve Child Welfare
- Making outcomes accelerated for children a reality, through virtual experiences and enablement for caseworkers
- Virtual Reality in Human Services: Boosting confidence in making tough decisions
Picture this scenario: A young, unmarried mother struggles to support her infant child. Child welfare steps in to help find a solution, and the baby is sent to live with her birth father. But the situation unexpectedly turns worse. The girl, so little and defenseless, ends up in the hospital because of physical abuse.
This was not just another regretful case. The girl was my niece. She ultimately found a permanent, safe and loving home with my mom—her grandmother—who adopted and raised her. Since that day years ago, I’ve often wondered if something was missed. The answer can’t change what happened. But the lesson still resonates and reinforces the challenge to reimagine child welfare. We must push forward. We must continuously innovate to find better ways to enable and empower the people who so tirelessly work to protect our children. Previously, I described how data and insights can help caseworkers drive accelerated outcomes. Combined with the exciting new capabilities of virtual reality, I think we’re on a solid path.
A caseworker’s reality
Child welfare cases are unscripted and unpredictable. Caseworkers enter new houses, looking for any possible signs of stress or threat – with minutes to determine whether a child is safe. These can be difficult, life-altering decisions and there’s no room for error. The consequences of getting it wrong can be perilous.
It can take years to develop the skills needed to be prepared for these situations. And yet, caseworkers are faced with the responsibility on day one. What if we could expedite this skill development?
Accelerating the pace of learning
Through immersive storytelling and interactive voice-based scenarios, virtual reality (VR) can replicate these experiences and allow caseworkers to practice their data-gathering and decision-making skills in real-time. It can empower them to assess environments and pinpoint warning signs, even in stressful and potentially traumatic or dangerous circumstances – all within the confines of a safe practice environment.
But VR training is more than just practicing skills. The benefits are far-reaching:
- Improved insights – VR training gives caseworkers the opportunity to practice assessing ambiguous situations. They can build their reserve of knowledge and develop seasoned decision-making capabilities without years of experience.
- Greater confidence – The innate stress of this work leads to high levels of burnout. Caseworker turnover in the U.S. is 30-40%, and the average tenure is less than two years. This means that many caseworkers are inexperienced. VR is an effective way to increase the pace of mastery and build their confidence to make reliable decisions.
- Increased effectiveness – A recent study by the University of Maryland determined that people learn and perform better with virtual immersive environments, showing an 8.8% improvement in overall recall accuracy using VR technology.
But nothing compares to the increased likelihood that children are kept safe from abuse and neglect.
In a field where there are no clear answers and no easy solutions, one thing is certain – VR can help prepare caseworkers to ask the right questions, gather the right information and make tough decisions.