‘Looking out for Lottie’ – how award winning online simulation is improving child protection training on child sexual exploitation
The Centre for Child Protection (CCP) at the University of Kent, where I work alongside Professor David Shemmings as a Director, has developed innovative work into the use of serious game simulations to upskill professionals into complex and difficult aspects of child protection practice. These simulations have also been developed to help children and young people protect themselves from online and face-to-face grooming.
As an educator in child protection I became increasingly frustrated at the limited training resources with which to teach. I felt ineffective turning up to teach the next generation of child protection workers with a paper case study, a research article and a film.
Professor Shemmings and I wanted to not only modernise training approaches to child protection but to ensure any approach we developed was impactful, research-informed and sustainable.
Pitching our idea to the University in 2011 and securing initial funding enabled us to make an early prototype of our ideas (‘Rosie 1’, on child sexual abuse). The journey involved going to visit organisations outside of child protection (for example airlines, shops and hospitals) to see how they conducted training in difficult and often stressful situations, as well as learning from new and exciting approaches in gaming technology. Recent technological sophistication has enabled us to progress significantly in the development of the teaching and learning approaches we now include, which help embed learning and retain key messages. This six-year journey and backing from the University has enabled us to pioneer our new and innovative approach in child protection training and secure external funding to make bespoke simulations on complex child protection issues.
‘Rosie 1’ gave practitioners the opportunity to ‘virtually’ go on a section 47 statutory home visit to a young girl following a referral from her nursery. The ‘player’ is offered the opportunity to make conversational choices with the family in this ‘game’, overcome an appearance from a snake, explore the environment and ultimately safeguard Rosie.
‘Rosie 2’ for professionals focuses on neglect and complexity and uses avatars as characters in a 13 scene home visit, where the tasks range from assessing the family to getting upstairs to see the children. ‘MyCourtroom: Rosie’s family go to court’ is a continuation of the Rosie story and was developed in partnership with Cafcass and has versions for professionals, Litigants in Person and children and young people.
The Rosie simulations have been so successful many others have followed which are now used across the UK and internationally. Put simply, what we do is take complex child protection issues, consult and work in partnership with experts and young people themselves, review the research and then turn all of this information into interactive, immersive child protection simulations for professionals and young people. The ‘magic’ is in the teaching and learning elements we build into the simulations – all designed to keep the ‘player’ or learner on track with the topic, the story, the characters and the key messages we want to get across.
For example ‘Zak’ (developed with Kent County Council and Kent police) focuses on the complex topic of radicalisation and ‘players’ use a traffic light system to spot where and when Zak is being groomed online. ‘Zak’ won the Chief Constables Commendation Award (Kent) in 2015 and us used all over the UK by young people.
‘Looking out for Lottie’ focuses on the grooming of a young girl by her ‘boyfriend’ for the purposes of child sexual exploitation. In both versions, for professionals and young people, players go through all of Lottie’s social media pages and her phone, to see how she is groomed to become a victim of a serious sexual assault by a gang of men. ‘Lottie’ was winner of the Guardian Award for Digital Innovation 2016.
‘Behind Closed Doors’ – our most recent simulation – explores issues related to the grooming for radicalisation of three girls to travel to Syria, and a young man groomed for a far right organisation by a female groomer.
We have found that using simulations for teaching and learning in this way enables and helps facilitate different approaches to evaluation. For example, by using this type of technology we are able to evaluate impact by using facial recognition and eye tracker software to gauge unconscious reactions to these complex child protection situations. This gives us important data on how people react to the issues they see unfolding (Reeves et al 2015).
Of course conventional evaluation gives us insight also and in a recent (as yet unpublished) pilot study of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ conducted with 39 young people in a Further Education college, of overwhelming significance were two elements. Firstly, 32 of the 39 participants stated that their knowledge of radicalisation and grooming had increased through using the simulation. Secondly, 25 out of the 39 said it would actively alter their online behaviour. Of those who said it would not alter their behaviour, for some it was because they (self-reportedly) felt they acted in a safe way anyway.
Developing tools which build professional knowledge in an engaging and immersive way but also directly target young people in a way that is meaningful and impactful to them has been a huge privilege. We have more exciting projects on the horizon, as technology advances there are opportunities to be even more innovative, and of course there are many more complex child protection issues we still need to tackle.
About the author
Professor Jane Reeves (J.Reeves@kent.ac.uk) is a Director of the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) at the University of Kent.
Reeves J, Drew I, Shemmings D, Ferguson H (2015) ‘‘Rosie 2’ A Child Protection Simulation; Perspectives on Neglect and the ‘Unconscious at Work’’. Child Abuse Review 24 346-364.