UK Social Work launches virtual reality child welfare investigation simulation

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 15, 2023) — The University of Kentucky College of Social Work (CoSW) has developed a new virtual reality (VR) simulation to better prepare students and practitioners to conduct child welfare investigations.

The simulation is the latest innovation from the CoSW eService Learning Initiative.

The cutting-edge, VR technology offers “hands on” training — providing learners the opportunity to interact with and adapt to fluid scenarios. Additionally, the simulations were built in partnership with practitioners who have decades of experience.

The goal is to help current and future social workers build competency and confidence.

Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, has previous experience conducting child abuse investigations and understands the challenges practitioners face.

“To be clear, no one can ever be fully prepared to conduct a child abuse investigation,” Miller said. “But this simulation project allows one to garner experience with best practices, and it affords child welfare researchers and supervisors the insights to more effectively support children and families.” 

During the simulation, participants initiate virtual home visits, conduct interactive interviews, and assess risks and symptoms of child maltreatment. The VR experience also incorporates multiple knowledge checks and learning scenarios designed to match the participants expertise, as well as provide real-time feedback.

"In the field, every investigation is different,” Erin Mayhorn, clinical faculty instructor and Public Child Welfare Certification program coordinator, said. “This simulation will prepare students and practitioners with a diverse array of interactions.”

Novelty aside, Miller knows the benefits and potential of using cutting-edge technology in the classroom.

“At the end of the day, we are crystal clear about the purpose of this project, as well as the entire eService Initiative, more broadly,” Miller said. “We are preparing people to engage with, serve, protect and treat the most vulnerable Kentucky children and families. Ultimately, this simulation initiative is yet another tool to help us do that in the most skillful way possible.”  

Last year, the college also launched a VR support group for foster teens. The setting gives participants who are homebound, have social anxiety, live in rural areas, have busy schedules or prefer anonymity the opportunity to connect with mentors and peers.

You can learn more about the CoSW online.

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