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Using virtual reality to understand the impact of trauma on children

Speaking at the Social Work and Wellbeing conference last week, social workers Arianna Illanganantileke and Joseph Kumbaare explain how virtual reality (VR) tools can be used to enhance social work practice.

30/11/22

Using virtual reality to understand the impact of trauma on children

Virtual reality is proving effective in helping professionals, parents, and carers understand the impact of trauma on children.

In a joint presentation, Arianna Illanganantileke and Joseph Kumbaare, social workers in the London Borough of Bromley, demonstrated a clinically-led programme the borough has been using since 2018.

“It was a very innovative tool that we started using within the fostering service and permanency service,” Ms Illanganantileke said.

“The value of learning through seeing things is that it actually helps us build the memory and learn things on a deeper level. So the perception of being physically present in a non-physical world is a powerful and lasting experience.

“Children in or on the edge of care have experienced significant trauma, which can manifest in many ways, and often seen by the adults around them as challenging behaviour. We know that this can severely impact on the child's future, the connections that they make with their primary caregivers, and also with friendships and future relationships.

“It took some time initially to embed it in our practice. But since then, it's really spread throughout the different services and in all different processes. So now, working for Bromley you have several opportunities to be trained with VR.”

Joseph Kumbaare explained the programme: “Within the VR headset, we've got a lot of different clips that you can select from.”

“If you're a social worker working with a family, your knowledge of VR and what we have on the system would inform you whether a particular scenario would fit a particular family.

“For example, if we're working with child sexual exploitation, some teenagers may not necessarily understand the dangers. So there are clips that you can show to them, and then it will start the conversation.

“If you're working with families, or foster carers that are struggling with difficult behaviour of a child…there are concepts that we use …for the foster carer, or the parents to be able to have ways of different ways or different approaches to working with their child,’ the commentary said.

The presentation included clips from the programme showing the dangers to an unborn child of substance abuse by the mother from the child’s viewpoint.

Other examples put the viewer in a room from the point of view of a young child, visually and in the voiceover, showing the impact on the child of angry, shouting adults: “I learned Mummies can be kind, but I never know when or how long it will last before the shouting starts again. I don't understand. Is it my fault? It must be my fault. I make them cross. Maybe if I don't cry or make a mess then they'll love me.”

Mr Kumbaare added, “we have sometimes used the VR programme to recruit social workers; we write scenarios for people to read and answer.”

He added that it had proved useful for him when working with a girl with autism, helping her carers and teachers understand her perspective.

Ms Illanganantileke said, “I've used it with foster carers, and the feedback from them was excellent. They said, everybody should use it, even parents that we are working with maybe down the line, you know, before the children come into care, because maybe if they can really understand their child's experience, they will start making different changes.

“It's just a tool. It's not for every family that we work with. Because as you can see, it is very emotive. And so you've have to have quite a sensitive approach and really frame it in the right way. You need to have that support, even after you have that session with them and just check in, because it could trigger things for them, whether it's professionals, family members or carers -- there could be things that we don't know about.”

To discover more innovative practice, you can register for other COMPASS events and gain a full day of CPD at www.compassjobsfair.com

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