Caseworker Training reimagined

Transforming virtual encounters into knowledge.

Call for change

Posing the proper inquiries

Government-funded benefit programs serve a critical role in society, ensuring that those in need have access to shelter, food, and healthcare.

Despite the fact that each jurisdiction normally has a defined policy for determining eligibility for social services and social benefits, caseworkers often evaluate whether a family or an individual should get financial support. As a result of seeing the direct effects of their judgments, this may understandably impose a huge mental and emotional load on caseworkers. A effective caseworker depends on a combination of expertise, abilities, and self-assurance to make the best judgments for every client. This demands intensive initial and continuing education.

Caseworkers may need years to obtain the required skills and confidence for the job. In certain cases, people may undergo months of training just to discover that the position is unsuitable. Consequently, firms may make substantial sums in training with little return, creating a serious problem in an industry with restricted resources and already high turnover. San Diego County (“the County”) desired to improve mistake rates in eligibility determinations determining whether families get food, health care, and basic necessities. The county acknowledged that rookie caseworkers need more “real world” expertise to conduct eligibility interviews. Therefore, the County contacted CDWT to investigate a new and improved method for training caseworkers on the human aspect of social work.

CDWT and the County chose the award-winning CDWT Virtual Experience Solution (CVEnueS) to teach eligible caseworkers so they feel confident on their first day. The objective was to develop a new learning module for the CVEnueS programme that emphasised eligibility. This came at a time when the pandemic was complicating matters by forcing benefits appointments to be online and by phone. There was no opportunity for new eligibility workers to shadow seasoned caseworkers or see the subtleties of an eligibility interview in person. They were missing essential de-escalation techniques and the learning that happens experientially. Fortunately, the CVEnueS scenario that the County created with CDWT would proceed to solve for this and create new benefits for County caseworkers.

When Tech Meets Human Inventiveness

Adaptation of virtual experiences

CVEnueS is an interactive virtual reality (VR) training method that employs immersive narrative and experiential learning to reinvent tactics for human services staff development, screening, and recruiting. It is a learning environment that replicates the field and office experiences of caseworkers.

It differs from conventional virtual reality in that it employs interactive speech technology. The experience is totally hands-free and voice operated, using just a standalone virtual reality headset without smartphone connectivity. A cloud-based conversation engine recognises and interprets the user’s queries and remarks using machine learning and natural language processing (NLP). The outcome is a very realistic and fully immersive experience.

There are no joysticks, avatars, or computer-generated visuals in CVEnueS. Instead, it is a completely immersive, realistic, 360-degree experience recorded in a real workplace with real characters with whom customers converse as they explore the scene. Simply said, if a question is posed in the virtual world, the user may react in the actual world. This answer is identified in the virtual realm and influences the progression of the game. Akin to a “choose your own adventure” in human services, user analytics monitor performance and get insights into the user’s decision-making process.

The County collaborated closely with CDWT to develop a virtual reality scenario in which trainers conduct interviews with applicants in order to authenticate and collect the essential information for making benefit decisions. In the scenario, the student performs an in-person intake interview for medical insurance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — known in California, respectively, as Medi-Cal, CalWORKS, and CalFresh.

A Valuable Difference

The County and CDWT aimed to develop a training solution for CDWT’s successful CVEnueS program that would allow participants to improve their interviewing, empathy, service, and accuracy abilities.

Learning these abilities in a virtual environment, as opposed to on the job or while shadowing experienced employees, shields candidates from irritating, distressing, or humiliating circumstances. CVEnueS may also be used in the recruiting process, allowing candidates to experience an exact portrayal of the position to identify early on whether it is a good match, so saving both the business and the candidate valuable time and effort.

CVEnueS enhances the capacity of novice and experienced caseworkers to employ a suitable inquiry style to elicit the necessary information without using jargon that confuses the applicant. Participants are able to reflect on their abilities as well as the power dynamics inherent while dealing with people and families thanks to the accompanying curriculum and training presentation. Participants feel confident in their ability to ask questions that generate more favorable replies, are courteous, and cannot be perceived as accusing. Over ninety percent of CVEnueS participants said that the training enhanced their ability to engage folks and offered a realistic outlook on their new position. And one hundred percent of CVEnueS participants indicated they would suggest the experience to a colleague.

The eligibility program has been so effective that the county has been awarded the Information Technology Solutions Management for Human Services (ISM) affinity group national award for Best Use of Technology for Internal Operations. This award honors the creative use of technology to enhance and improve an organization’s internal productivity and efficiency.

Assisting families in obtaining vital benefits is a vocation characterized by numerous ups and downs. Caseworkers in San Diego County now have access to a new resource that will assist them in doing their duties successfully and with confidence.

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