This piece was originally published in the February 2022 issue of Policy & Practice magazine.
For child welfare leaders, the phrase “workforce capacity” often connotes efforts to improve caseload allocation or caseworker training with an eye toward greater efficiency. The trouble is, child welfare isn’t a system that should make cost savings its goal. Child welfare is a system that needs to focus on enabling better results for the families and children it supports.
In child welfare, arguably the most important aspect of “workforce capacity” is our collective ability to bring empathy, demonstrate compassion and deliver support to all families and children. Historically, our country has not performed well against that metric. Race bias in our work is a demographic fact, and a focus on efficiency improvements will do little or nothing to change that. How can we do the work of eradicating bias and driving racial equity without increasing risks to families and kids? I believe part of the answer is technology tools designed specifically for this purpose.
Virtual reality (VR), which lets caseworkers practice in a realistic way, is one with the greatest potential. Unlike simulation rooms, VR scenarios enable dynamic interactions and a highly personal user experience. When wearing a VR headset, each caseworker is immersed — and on their own — with the people in the virtual environment. Once headsets are off, participants come together as a group to reflect on and learn from their experiences.