QC Child Abuse Council Uses New Virtual Reality Training For Healthy Families Program

While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital tools in human service nonprofits across the country, few are making high-tech investments in technology like the Child Abuse Council (CAC) in the Quad Cities.

The Moline-based organization – which leads community efforts to give every child the foundations for a safe and healthy childhood – has developed innovative new virtual reality (VR) training for family support specialists and community doulas who make home visits as part of their Healthy Families program. .

With the virtual reality platform, new staff and supervisors wear headsets and enter a simulated apartment where they can practice the types of interactions the intern is likely to experience during real in-person home visits. – from conversations about what to expect during and after pregnancy on how to maintain a safe home environment, according to a statement Wednesday. The aim of the new training is to improve the skills of home visitors and provide client families with a better experience, while saving costs.

“I couldn’t be more excited to find out where this new training can take our staff, our families and our organization,” CAOT Executive Director Mark Mathews said in the statement. “We haven’t just found ways to survive during the pandemic. We’ve broken new ground by developing ways to transform our services, save money, and create a future workplace that truly benefits our employees.

Even before COVID-19, the organization faced challenges with the intensive onboarding of its home visitors, Mathews said. Matchmaking, for example, can be a burden on families opening their homes to program staff, while normal role-play exercises often ignore key details such as age, race and gender. of a potential client, according to the press release.

In addition to a two-week in-person off-site training, the new virtual reality training can be delivered at the Child Abuse Council offices in Moline. And now that the mock apartment has been developed, training future staff – and even modifying the training over time – is inexpensive. More importantly, according to Samantha Mathew, manager of the Healthy Families program, the training will leave staff members more comfortable and adept at the situations they will encounter during home visits.

A scene from the new virtual training used by the Child Abuse Council in Moline.

“The first time a client says they are experiencing domestic violence or have suicidal thoughts, it can come as a shock,” she said. “Now we can practice preparing for these kinds of interactions so that instead of stumbling with families in the moment and possibly saying something bad, they can come in and provide better support to our families. The virtual reality software includes an avatar editor that allows coaches to “play” with people of all demographics, she added.

While virtual reality training technology has found early adopters in technical fields such as manufacturing and surgery, it is becoming increasingly common for roles focused on interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, said the CAC. Research suggests that VR training for ‘soft skills’ is more effective than classroom learning, with VR users completing the training faster, staying more focused, making stronger emotional connections with the material, and feeling better. more confident to apply it, the statement said.

“It’s completely immersive,” said Samantha Mathew. “It’s so much like a real home visit that you forget everything around you.”

For Mathews (the agency manager), increasing staff skills and confidence comes with an added benefit: better job satisfaction and, ultimately, lower turnover. “It’s better for our families, who benefit from having this stable person in their life,” he said.

Ultimately, Mathews hopes to market the training to other human service agencies in the Quad Cities area and, because it can be delivered remotely, across the country. “If we and other organizations can save money using this tool, it helps secure the future of these programs,” he said.

A $ 25,000 grant from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation enabled the organization to realize its training vision, hiring a student-developer at the Augmented and Virtual Reality Academy at Eastern Iowa Community College to build the virtual apartment.

This intern, Chad Behal, helped maximize the project’s budget and add unexpected features, including an “observation deck” from which others can view ongoing training sessions. “The Child Abuse Council is already good at what they do,” Behal said, “and this investment just shows that they care enough to become even better.”

A view of the VR training observation deck.

Another intern, Caroline Sharis, prepared videos and other materials to explain the benefits of the training and created guides on how to use it. “There is a lot that can be done to build a healthy community, from educating children in the classroom to making home visits with new parents,” said Sharis, a native of Bettendorf and a junior from the ‘Harvard University. “The Child Abuse Council is looking at the big picture to make it happen. “

For more information visit Childabusecouncilqc.org.


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