A recent post on the Child Welfare Advocates group in LinkedIn motivated me to put ‘pen to paper’ regarding an idea that I’ve been contemplating for awhile now. (BTW, what is the electronic equivalent of the expression ‘pen to paper’….?) The comment came from someone providing foster care in the UK; her concern was that children were waiting years for therapy services. Given the trauma experienced by children entering care–as a result of the abuse or neglect that precipitated removal and the actual removal itself–waiting for therapy services is unacceptable according to the author. I agree whole-heartedly, and said as much in response to the comment.
My proposed solution may be viewed with skepticism by some but I would ask for open minds in what I would suggest as a way of addressing this issue. ‘Hear me out’, if you will. Again, what is the electronic equivalent…??
My thought: immediate, initial therapeutic services could be provided via Second Life or other virtual world platforms. This could also be a way to bridge services when a move or change in service provider is necessary or could serve as a long-term support for youth after aging out of care or ending face-to-face therapy services. I believe that virtual worlds could offer a means of accessing services that might prove to be particularly beneficial to a generation that is increasingly tech savvy, and in fact, tech dependent. For foster youth, virtual worlds offer a means of connecting with others who have similar experiences as well as professionals who may not be easily accessible in their communities.
The challenges; yes, there are a few. However, I believe the option is worth exploring. Of course, such services would have to be closely monitored to ensure that reputable therapists are providing services. Precautions would be necessary to ensure confidentiality and that youth do not have contact with persons other than those ‘approved’ by their case worker, a Guardian-ad-litem, a judge, or other person responsible for their care and well-being. Access might prove to be an obstacle if the foster care provider does not have access to high-speed internet connections and a computer with the graphic capabilities required by virtual worlds such as Second Life. Finding therapists or other persons with proficiency in virtual platforms may also present a challenge. However, given that geographic location is not an issue in virtual worlds, this might easily be overcome.
Since timely access to services is critical when there is trauma involved, using electronic mediums would seem to be a viable option. We know from the Adverse Childhood Experiences studies that the impact of childhood trauma can be life-long. We also know from work in post-traumatic stress that time is of the essence in delivering support services. Given the potential benefits, especially to youth who do not have access to support services at the point in time when they are most needed, the alternatives are worth exploring.
I would be remiss if I did not mention, and thank, the MacArthur Foundation and Global Kids for introducing me to the opportunities and possibilities of Second Life. Through an non-profit outreach and virtual training program, I was able to experience Second Life with the expert guidance of ‘SL Pros’ at Global Kids. To learn about MacArthur Island on Second Life, visit http://bit.ly/nlz6fC.