Key Assets introduces immersive VR into Foster Care training

Virtual Reality technology is being increasingly used not just for games but to educate and inform people in a wide range of settings.  Key Assets is breaking new ground in using VR in the coaching and support of Foster Carers.

Foster Carers will often say that being a carer is one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.  They may also tell you that is one of the most challenging.  Foster Carers willingly open their homes and their hearts to children and young people in need, but can be left baffled by angry, suspicious responses from children to whom they show only patience and kindness. 

Consider this scenario: Ben, a foster child, is found scribbling on his bedroom wall.  The Foster Carer, Liz, moves to sit beside him and gently explain why it is rule of the house that people do not scribble on walls, then offer him an alternative activity.  But before she can do this, Ben lashes out, emitting angry screams and kicking at her.  Liz is shocked, unsure what has prompted this violent reaction, and puzzled about what she has done wrong to provoke this. The answer is that Liz has done nothing wrong. What she is seeing is the response of a child who has suffered trauma. 

Childhood trauma, resulting from neglect and abuse, impacts on children’s brain development.  Their experiences of being harmed by their caregivers teaches them not to trust those who are supposed to look after them, and to expect all adults to be a threat to them. They have learned that the world is a hostile place, and they need to learn to look after themselves if they are to survive.  Thus, they become hypervigilant, always on the alert for where peril may lurk. Their brain is wired to move quickly to a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to protect themselves from danger.  Such children will see threat which is not apparent to others because what they are not reacting to what is happening now; they are reacting to what has happened to them in the past.  So our young wall artist, Ben, has learned that adults moving towards him, looming over him, when he may have been doing something he shouldn’t, results in him being hurt and abused.  He is not responding to his gentle Carer, Liz; he is responding to what has happened to him repeatedly in similar situations and which he expects to happen again.

Foster Carers can feel hurt and be discouraged when they and their family are working hard to welcome and support a foster child only to encounter reactions such as Ben’s.  Key Assets highly values our Foster Carers as essential members of the team and we don’t want to lose them.  Thus, we recognize the need to prepare Foster Carers for what they may encounter, educating them about the trauma many children who come into in foster care may have suffered and the adverse impact this has had on their brain development.  This helps Carers build an understanding of children’s behaviour and how best to respond. 

VR immerses Foster Carers in the child’s experience as they actually see the world through a child’s eyes

Using VR adds a whole new dimension to this knowledge and understanding.  VR immerses Foster Carers in the child’s experience as they actually see the world through a child’s eyes.  Using the headsets, they are in the position of a child living in unkempt surroundings, witnessing violence, being screamed at by an angry parent. This opens a whole new breadth of appreciation and empathy with what a traumatised child has been through and leads to a deeper understanding of why they respond the way they do.

Living with a foster family in a predictable, supportive, safe environment will begin to heal the child’s trauma.  We work with our Foster Carers so they care for a child in a way that helps the child to regulate their emotions and gradually build trust in other people.  When Carers, using VR, gain a dramatic insight into the world through the child’s eyes, they are much better equipped to do this. 

Key Assets is pioneering the use of VR to provide an extra level of support to our Foster Carers who are ordinary people doing extraordinary work with vulnerable children and young people.