Meet 11-year old Rosie, the animated child character at the centre of myCourtroom – an interactive social work training simulation developed by Cafcass and Kent University. Rosie’s father has made an initial private law application for her to live with him. As the case progresses, Rosie speaks unfettered to the camera, articulating her thoughts and feelings about her parents’ separation, home situation and proceedings. She blinks with wide, worried eyes and moves around her environment. She has been designed to provide a realistic portrayal of a child caught up in parental dispute.
This dynamic and personalised approach has already struck a chord with Cafcass practitioners who participated in the recent pilot training for the simulation in Manchester. Practice supervisors Pauline Duncan and Michelle Hulme share their experience of the simulation and explain how it can benefit both practitioners new to court work and those with more experience.
“As trained social workers with experience of working with children we all know how they might feel about their family’s situation, but this understanding can sometimes be in the abstract,” says Pauline. “myCourtroom was really quite powerful in bringing out the importance of individual children’s experiences, and evoked a strong emotional response. I felt really sorry for Rosie, even though I was aware it was a simulation.
“Seeing and hearing from her brought it to life, emphasising the reality for children and provoking thinking around practice. You hear Rosie’s behind closed doors thoughts, which we don’t always get the chance to hear if we have minimal contact with a child we’re working with. It’s easy to get jaded with training, but this was really impressive – we were all really engaged.”
Michelle agrees, “Sometimes training can feel a little like ‘death by PowerPoint’, but the simulation’s animation felt real and fired up an emotional response from us. It evoked different interpretations and we explored varying approaches to the case.”
This is where the training is helpful for experienced practitioners, providing the opportunity to explore complex practice dilemmas, including issues around sibling separation, permanency and neglect.
Pauline says, “The scenes focusing on neglect are cleverly done, as the signs are quite subtle. It prompts you to use your assessment skills to consider the impact for the child and it sparked discussion around the risks and thresholds for further action.” Michelle adds, “It also covers variations in culture between different courts and we discussed how we can approach this.”
It’s also a useful resource for practitioners new to the court setting and local authority workers seeking clearer understanding of private law proceedings. It supports development of professional skills, such as best practice around giving evidence, and provides greater knowledge of court processes and Cafcass’ role. “It takes you right through the whole process, from the C100 court application following through as the case progresses.”
A number of our staff are attending further training sessions and will share the learning more widely with local Cafcass teams. Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director leading on the myCourtroom project says, “The simulation can be used within teams to promote themed practice discussions and reflection. We’re also looking to build myCourtroom into our induction programme for new starters and apply it when the National Improvement Service receives commissions for practice development on topics such as giving evidence.”
A version of myCourtroom for new service users, particularly litigants in person, will be launched later this year, to familiarise them with the court process and what to expect. Also to come is an adapted version for direct work with children and young people. This can be used as a tool to help them get a better sense of the people involved in their case and open up discussion about proceedings and any questions they may have.