Preliminary Evaluation of the Virtual Reality Pilot Programme: The Cornerstone Partnership


This study provides summary findings from a preliminary evaluation of the Cornerstone Partnership’s Virtual Reality Programme (CVR), which aimed to improve outcomes for children in care and children who have experienced attachment-related trauma.

Virtual reality technology is used to give professionals trauma-awareness training. Picture: Cornerstone Partnership
Virtual reality technology is used to give professionals trauma-awareness training. Picture: Cornerstone Partnership
  • Alma Economics (2019)

About the intervention

The programme uses virtual reality (VR) technology to change how professionals (including social workers), adopters and fosters carers understand and interact with vulnerable children. By viewing 360-degree films through virtual reality headsets, the viewer can engage with several scenarios that provide insight into the lives of children who have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma. The programme includes two key elements:

  • Trauma awareness training delivered to professionals using VR
  • Training delivered to professionals to allow them to administer VR to support adopters and foster carers.

Findings

This preliminary evaluation found that using VR programme achieved a positive impact in the following ways:

  • Improved understanding of trauma and children’s emotions
  • Skills and knowledge to enable quicker decision-making
  • The potential to improve placement stability
  • Changes in the type of support offered to children and carers
  • Help in the recruitment of adopters and foster carers.

Cost savings

Using fairly conservative assumptions, this study estimates CVR can help generate savings in the tune of £70,000 - £190,000 on average for each local authority, solely through improvements in matching speed and improvements in preventing adoption breakdown. This study focused on two key outcomes that have a clear, measurable financial impact through improved placement stability and quicker matching.

In terms of what worked well in the implementation of the sessions, virtually everyone who completed the training reported they were confident using the VR equipment and knew where to go if they needed help with the equipment.

In terms of learning about how the content of the sessions could be improved, key suggestions included the need to consider whether including additional attachment theories would add value to the training and exploring ways of ensuring that empathy for birth parents is also created through the VR experience.

The findings also suggest that ways to improve training could be to issue a certificate of completion to training participants and to continue to deliver the full course over two days.

Implications for practice

While further work is needed to provide definitive evidence on impact and financial benefits, the preliminary results from this study suggest a very promising picture of CVR’s potential to improve outcomes for children in care and children who have experienced attachment-related trauma.

  • The potential applications of the VR technology are numerous. In this study, local authorities reported using the virtual reality kits beyond the adoption and fostering teams to areas such as:
  • Special guardianship orders and kinship carers – similarly to adoption and fostering, CVR could be used as a tool to examine parenting approaches and behaviour management
  • Teen parents – to provide insight into how environmental factors can affect child development.
  • Administrative and management staff – providing a more realistic look at the issues encountered by frontline staff.

  • VR films could add value if embedded in social worker training programmes as they provide strong empathy and insight for students coming into the workforce who may not have been previously exposed to the issues facing children in care.
  • This study suggests that when deciding on areas to expand into, issues worth considering include:
  • How can the programme be targeted to achieve the greatest impact (e.g. targeting professions with greater contact with children, key decision-makers)?
  • Where are the key training gaps?
  • What are the current policy and funding priorities?

FURTHER READING

  • Related resources by SCIE
  • How Digital Technology Can Improve Social Work – A Young Person’s Perspective, Jordan Wosik (2019)
  • Digital Capabilities for Social Workers, SCIE (2019)
  • Digital Social Work Practice and Development, East Sussex County Council, Children’s Services, SCIE (2019)
  • Mind of My Own App, Action for Children practice example, SCIE (2019)
  • Use Social Care Online to keep up to date and search for new research, policy and guidance related to digital technology in children’s services. www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk

Suggested references

  • Ethics Review of Machine Learning in Children’s Social Care, D Leslie et al, What Works for Children’s Social Care (2020)
  • Leaving Well: A Digital Tool to Improve Support for Young People Leaving the Care System, Social Finance (2019)
  • Want more? Health Education England, BASW and SCIE: Digital Capabilities for Social Workers www.scie.org.uk/social-work/digital-capabilities

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year

Subscribe

CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year

Subscribe