You’re a child welfare caseworker newly assigned to a teenager. As you prepare for your first meeting, you review the file and learn that the teen is having serious conflict with their mom. Mom threatened to kick the teen out of the house — and then followed through on the threat.

By the time you sit down with the teen, they’re in a very bad place emotionally. In the first face to face, they’re shut down, unwilling to share much information at all. In later appointments, they’re surly, even disrespectful. You feel your body tense and your heart begin to race; “fight or flight” is kicking in.

What do you do next?

Do you take a deep breath and reprimand them for behaving inappropriately toward you (or other staff)? Do you remind them of other rules and regulations they’re expected to follow? Or do you offer up a list of possible support services available to them?

The more important question to ask yourself is this: What problem am I trying to solve?

Addressing your to-do list—while ensuring the teen’s compliance with rules—is one “problem.” But I would argue that it’s not the highest priority.

What if you viewed the problem not as their “bad” behavior but rather the complex challenges that have brought them to where they are today?

When you lead with trauma-focused care, you meet the teen where they are: exhausted, angry, scared. In desperate need of a glimmer of hope that things can be better. Unfortunately, no one can wave a magic wand and fix all their problems. But you can be physically and emotionally present for the teen.

You can do what the best parents do: demonstrate unconditional care and concern.

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How could virtual reality help train caseworkers in trauma-informed care?

This kind of trauma-informed care acknowledges the profound effects of ongoing trauma. That includes trauma children and youth have personally experienced, as well as trauma that has been passed down through generations of their families. It helps us get to some of the root causes of adolescent mental health issues.

As with most things, delivering trauma-informed care takes practice. Caseworkers, supervisors and other child welfare stakeholders need support in learning the relevant tools and techniques.

That’s where Alayna comes in. Alayna is a teenager who lives in virtual reality (VR) – more specifically, in an Accenture Virtual Experience Solution (AVEnueS) scenario focused on trauma-informed care and adolescent mental health.

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Alayna’s VR experience provides an opportunity for child welfare professionals to practice navigating the difficult waters of a youth in crisis. It serves up interactions that could elicit that fight-or-flight response — and helps users make critical choices about what information to share and how to present it to Alayna.

Above all, it underscores the labyrinth of uncertainty that many teens are dealing with. It reminds us that while there may be no fast, easy or guaranteed happy endings, these youth are in our care. And they’re worth our investment of patience, compassion and thoughtful support.

Learn why we believe VR is a critical resource for training the caseworker of the future. Discover how agencies can use it to combat race bias in child welfare.

Read Molly’s other recent posts:

This content is provided for general information purposes and is not intended to be used in place of consultation with our professional advisors. This document refers to marks owned by third parties.  All such third-party marks are the property of their respective owners.  No sponsorship, endorsement or approval of this content by the owners of such marks is intended, expressed or implied.

Molly Tierney

Managing Director – Public Service, Child Welfare, North America

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