In early 2021, Antser partnered with Flourish Fostering, an Ofsted rated ‘Outstanding’ therapeutic provider of care for children and young people, supporting them to become one of the first independent providers in the UK to use Antser’s pioneering virtual reality (VR) technology across their services.
Over the past two years, Antser VR has been implemented across the organisation to upskill staff and foster parents by enhancing their understanding of trauma and, through their informed care, provide better outcomes for children and young people.
For almost 15 years, Nicola and Kevin Woodall have been fostering children. After deciding that they wanted to be the people that gave children a chance, their fostering journey began.
Go to work. Come home. Go to work. Come home. Go on holiday. Come home. Go to work. Come home. It was this monotonous cycle that pushed Nicola and Kevin to become Foster Parents.
Since 2007, the couple have been supporting children in their local area, and have had their current foster children, who are siblings, with them for the last 11 years. The couple said: “We were so fed up with that “normal” routine and we thought there must be more to life than this. We wanted to give children something and give them a chance.”
Nicola was a former civil servant of the prison service, and while Kevin continues to run his own business, the couple have been fostering mostly long-term placements for the last 15 years.
One of the biggest learnings that the couple have taken away from being Foster Parents is that it is an entirely two-way street. Nicola said: “This job is so challenging, but so rewarding at the same time. You have to remember that these children give so much to you. It’s nice, and it makes you feel good when they come home and say that they have had a genuinely good day, or when they have left your care but continue to come back and see you. You know that they understand their journey with you, and the reasons behind some of the things that were said or done whilst they were in your care.”
Kevin added: “There are things that you wouldn’t even think of too. Like when a child insults you for the first time, because they finally feel confident or safe enough to do so, and you think ‘It’s working! I am getting to you!’. There is such a sense of achievement knowing that you are giving these children the best care that they could possibly have.”
Despite fostering for over a decade, Nicola and Kevin continue to train and learn more about fostering to ensure they are giving the best possible support to the children in their care. Nicola has recently completed her NVQ level 5 in Applied Therapeutic Practice. As Kevin isn’t the primary carer he doesn’t undertake as many courses and qualifications, but still attends sessions regularly.
Most recently, the couple have been through virtual reality training with the team at Flourish Fostering, using Antser’s VR technology to further their understanding of children who have endured traumatic starts in life.
Nicola said: “Even though we have been doing this for a long time, this type of training really hits home. You learn the exact impact that certain things have had on the children in your care. It’s hard when you haven’t experienced these things yourself to know exactly what your children are going through, but the power of VR training means that you can feel it. It’s an attack on all of your senses.”
Nicola continued: “The VR training shows lots of children’s behaviours, and the root cause of them. It helps link together your own children’s experiences and actions, and you think to yourself ‘this all makes sense now.’ Our youngest is now 15, and we can break down the reason for the way she behaved when she was a young child.”
Their recent training took them through the entire life of a child who has lived through abuse or trauma, starting from when they are in the womb, through their entire childhood, until they are removed from their own families and placed into care. Nicola and Kevin said: “You feel like you are actually living through the training. For the first time we were able to see things entirely through the eyes of the child, not just the Foster Parent on the receiving end. It gave us a whole new world of perspective.”
Having supported their current foster children for the last 11 years, Nicola and Kevin have learnt a lot about what it takes to be supportive Foster Parents. The couple emphasised that being a Foster Parent is not without its ups and downs, but their extensive training has helped them to work through difficult situations.
Kevin said that learning as you go along is all part and parcel of being a Foster Parent, but if VR training was available at the start of their fostering journey, it would have put them years ahead of where they started.
Kevin added: “I can’t imagine the hugely positive impact that this will have on Foster Parents who are just starting out. We recommend the VR training to everyone we know who fosters as it makes such a positive difference.”
Throughout all of their training and 15 years of fostering, Nicola and Kevin have loved being able to support children and young people for the better. Kevin explained how there is a myth surrounding children in care: “People think that children are in care because of things that they have done, but it is purely because of what they have been through or had done to them. We’ve been through some difficult times with the children in our care, but through ongoing training, and pulling together we have made a real difference to their lives.”
“We even have conversations with our children about the training that we have been on. We think it’s good for them to understand what we’ve learnt, and how it applies to them and their behaviour, and they find it interesting too. They understand the impact that they can have on the rest of the household, and we all learn how to do things differently to help each other. It’s always a two-way street.”
To find out more about the Antser Virtual Reality Programme, click here.