Blog post by Paul Beddows, Organisational Development Advisor, City of Wolverhampton Council
Back in April, social workers on their Practice Education course and their students were trained for the first time using virtual reality headsets. The training session focused on a child’s perspective of dealing with issues such as bullying and neglect, from being an unborn baby in the womb to a young person attending secondary school.
Social workers train as Practice Educators to support and supervise social work students on their Social Work degree courses as part of their placements whilst on the course.
The headsets were provided by the West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership. They have the headsets for a year and were using the council as part of the pilot they were running, with the sessions being delivered in collaboration with Staffordshire University.
Virtual reality as a training tool is not a new concept, with the first flight simulator developed in the 1920s. Technological advancements in this area have allowed huge leaps forward and have seen the application of virtual reality in many areas, including the military, healthcare, construction, and sport.
A key benefit of virtual reality is it plugs the gap between the practical and the theoretical for social workers.
Developments in virtual reality allow participants to enter a virtual environment that is able to replicate people, situations and experiences social workers will encounter. The software gives the participant the necessary experience to develop the skills vital for their role. Virtual reality is able to replicate characteristics consistent with the conditions, which in turn allows those without any experience in this field to gain it.
The training was a huge success with Kellie Hines, Senior Social Worker who works with young people aged 11-25 years old where there are high-risk behaviours/exploitation risks, said,
“I found the virtual reality training brilliant. It gave a good insight into the impact of harm on unborn babies and children and the long-term effects on young people.
The virtual simulation really came across from the child's standpoint with the sounds and with the way you were situated within the scenario. The unborn baby was hard-hitting for me as you are actually in the womb, and the muffled sounds of the parents arguing, and the increase in blood flow helped to understand why some children are in constant hyper-vigilance mode. Also, virtual reality did a great job of understanding substance misuse with the change of colours while the mother is carrying her baby.
I think this device would be beneficial for students as a reflective piece of work. I would also recommend it to social workers and education staff as an ongoing training tool. You travel with the girl in the main story through her primary years and secondary school years to show the lasting impact trauma has on development. It does a good job of showcasing how therapeutic responses to the child can make a positive difference.
“It could also be used with the right parents who don't think that their negative behaviours impact their children.”
Kirsten Newton-Watkiss, Social Work Student, found the training session to be insightful and added,
“It really showed how it felt to be a child in many situations. For instance, the scenario in the home showed how vulnerable it was for the child, and the feelings I felt of being scared or anxious highlighted for me how a child would feel in that position. I felt it really opened my eyes to the child's world from the womb to home and school. I feel this training stood out from any other, such as watching videos, because you were there and able to look around and see how the child's brain responded.
“The interactive nature was unlike anything I've experienced at university or on any placements and gave me a new perspective.”
The use of virtual reality provided participants with an immersive experience and provided lots of discussions. It is hoped that the Organisational Development team can access the headsets for further training during the year.