Virtual reality (VR) technology helps professionals grasp the traumatic experiences of looked-after children, research has found.

Social workers say virtual reality has boosted their understanding of children’s experiences. Cornerstone gives different names the headsets, in this case “Alert Skeleton”, to help them differentiate between software programmes. Picture: stokkete/Adobe Stock

Analysis of a pilot involving 30 councils and care organisations, found that training using VR headsets also helped improve the support carers and professionals offer children in care.

For social workers, carers and adopters the training involves virtually experiencing disturbing scenes that children witness before they enter care.

There is also content that shows how drug and alcohol abuse can affect a child before it is born.

The programme has the potential to improve stability within children’s placements and aid foster care and adopter recruitment, the research of virtual reality technology created by social enterprise Cornerstone found.

Taking part in the pilot were 500 professionals, including social workers who also used the tech-boosted training with carers and adopters. Judges and teachers were among others to take part.

Nine out of 10 (91 per cent) of those who took part believe VR has the power to change the perspective of carers and adopters around the effects of trauma.

A similar proportion (84 per cent) said virtual reality has helped them make decisions more quickly and 72 per cent said they will alter the support they offer as a result.

Of social workers who took part, 60 per cent said the technology had boosted their understanding of the experiences and feelings of children.

Just under half (44 per cent) of all those taking part believe that using virtual reality training can help prevent placement breakdown and 60 per cent believed it would help attract more adopters and foster carers.

Cornerstone chief executive Helen Costa says that the immersive nature of the experience, helps participants to solve complex problems.

“We’ve spent 18-months developing and perfecting the application of virtual reality in order to shift understanding and alter ingrained behaviours across a raft of settings in children’s social care,” said Costa.

“The outcomes for children who are in or have been in care are significantly worse than their peers across all key areas; education, health, career, rough-sleeping and mental health.

“The reasons for that are complex but it is fundamentally about how we as adults and professionals get children on to the right path, quickly and with support, empathy and true understanding.”

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service welcomes the use of virtual reality training for care professionals and carers.

“The virtual reality, which has been developed and applied by Cornerstone, shows how foster carers, adoptive carers and parents can understand the impact of major family issues like neglect and domestic abuse much quicker and in a much deeper way through being immersed in a virtual reality experience, than is possible through conventional learning programmes,” he said.

Research from 2016 by technology firm YuMe found that virtual reality elicited a 27 per cent higher emotional engagement with participants than when using more traditional 2D visual media.