Quad Cities Child Abuse Council Develops Virtual Reality Training System | Local crime and courts

The Quad Cities Child Abuse Council has developed a realistic new training system for family support specialists and others who do home visits, and it involves virtual reality.

The new VR training system allows staff members to enter a simulated apartment built by Chad Behal, an intern student at Eastern Iowa Community College’s Augmented and Virtual Reality Academy.

The apartment represents a residence that interns might encounter during home visits. Inside, there are things that immediately stand out, like a shotgun leaning against a wall and a pocket knife on the kitchen table, that could be dangerous for children. There are also other more subtle things that trained specialists should notice and know how to discuss.

Mark Mathews, the executive director of the Child Abuse Council, said they started the training by letting the specialists visit the flat and talking with them about things that would be important to talk about with the family living there. Once the trainees are comfortable analyzing the apartment, the next part of the training is to bring a supervisor into the apartment with the trainee and assume the role of a parent or caregiver. who the family support specialist might visit.

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“When you’re in the virtual world, you can change your avatars to be different people. So it can be a different population that a worker doesn’t have experience or exposure with. These people can actually play these specific roles,” says Mathieu. “Same thing with children. If you have adults like me playing children in front of you, it doesn’t seem real, but if I can be in the virtual world and have an avatar that makes me look like a child 4-year-old – man, that really makes it more immersive and realistic.”

Mathews said the idea for the VR training system came after a conference where he heard a speaker from the University of Illinois at Springfield talk about a new training system the university had built in partnership with DCFS, which involved a real house outfitted with cameras and hired actors. Mathews had reached out to find out more about the training and see if he could get his staff involved, but was told they might have to wait several years before the training was available.

Mathews said he wanted to create a similar system on a smaller scale, and he decided virtual reality was the easiest way to do it. He applied for and received a $25,000 grant from the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation and used that money to hire Behal to design the virtual apartment.

A press release about the VR system says Behal “helped maximize the project’s budget and added unexpected features, including an ‘observation deck’ from which others can view the sessions of formation in progress”.

Behal said it took him about two and a half months to design and build the virtual reality apartment, plus a few more weeks of adjustments and small changes.

“My first month was mostly spent prototyping the part, layout, creating the structure and the environment,” Behal said. “And then I also had a list of different 3D modeling items that I needed to finish. I spent some time making a list of different things that I might need for the part itself and then working on things like lighting, spacing and a lot of things like that.”

Mathews said he hopes to eventually market the training to other social service agencies in the Quad-Cities area and across the country.

“I couldn’t be more excited about where this new training can take our staff, our families and our organization,” said Mathews. “If we and other organizations can save money with this tool, it will help secure the future of these programs.”

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