Delivering Evidence-Based Care Strategies to Foster Parents
Games During Transition
Games can be with us during the most important times and transitions in our lives. For iTips, we partnered with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership to create a game that grows with families during one of the biggest transitions in their lives - becoming foster caregivers.
Becoming a Caregiver
Foster caregivers choose to care for a child when the child’s birth family is unable to do so. These children have been through a range of challenging experiences and often have a past history of trauma. A foster caregiver takes on their new role of raising and caring for one or even many children after only a few short weeks of training. After that the caregiver immediately transitions to become the central support system for each child in their home. Caregivers offer support at each step, as children adapt to their new environments, manage trauma, and come to terms with the difficult changes they’re experiencing.
Caregiving is a rewarding, but difficult job and caregivers need to quickly build a complex set of knowledge and skills to grow in their role. Understanding substance abuse, trauma-informed parenting, and developmental stages are some examples of the complicated subjects foster caregivers must learn for their roles. Without this education, caregivers may be unable to manage behavioral issues, address past trauma, and build trust with the children they aid. On top of this, caregivers are asked to balance a hectic schedule of childcare activities, social worker visits, and familial obligations which can be demanding and stressful.
Offering Simple, Useful Tips
When we choose to play a game, it’s because it fulfills a need for us and fits into our life at that moment. Games can offer relaxation, comfort, adventure, or excitement into our lives to name a few examples. When we designed iTips to help provide additional training to foster caregivers we had to answer an important question - “How will this fit into a caregiver’s life at this point in time?”
Foster caregivers are already asked to learn through an accelerated course, demonstrate their readiness, and then soon after transition to childcare and all of the responsibilities that come along with that. They’re asked to become experts immediately and can find that they don’t have the time or mental space to process exactly what they should do in each and every situation. Caregivers are taught all of the right skills, but it’s demanding to predict which of these dozens of skills to apply when and where as they manage emotionally complicated situations at home.
When talking to trainers and caregivers we came to understand that foster caregivers don’t need a digital replacement for in-person training. In fact, they get plenty of training thrown at them on any given day. Instead, they need a training that they can turn to for quick, practical, applied help to aid them at home and need to apply what they’ve learned. They need a simple and straightforward source to give them the tools they need, when they need it during times when they may not have the mental space to dig back through all of their past training.
iTips is a game-based training tool on your phone that’s there during the times you need it the most. It’s there when your toddler is inconsolable in the grocery store, or when you don’t know the right thing to say, or when you’ve just need to take a minute to see how far you and your foster family have come. iTips takes the best of the caregiver training program and condenses it into small, bite-sized tips that you can bring up in a crisis, or practice with in your down time.
Seeing The Progress
Everything about iTips needed to be practical, calming, quick, and easy to digest. We broke down the essential trainings into a few key interactions using games as the underlying structure. Using a system inspired by Reigns, we developed quick, interactive flashcards that give feedback based on how you swipe. Next, using micro-visual novels, we were able to illustrate the common scenarios a caregiver might encounter and allow them to practice how they’d respond. We added a self-care section with deep breathing, and relaxation exercises for stressful moments, and a quick-tips section where you can get advice on caregiving in an instant. We also offered a way to track how the week has felt, along with long, and short term goals for the family.
Finally, we wrapped this together with a custom leveling and achievement system that includes the family self-assessments. At each step in the process, the caregiver is rewarded for the actions they take, no matter how small. We heard that caregivers can at times feel their actions and improvements are invisible, so by tying this reward to their training we aimed to remind them of the strides which they’ve made. These achievements and progress trackers are visually reflected in a family album, where the caregiver can decorate and design a virtual version of their family. As they take steps they’ll see the family in their album change and update so that they can visualize their progress each time they check into the app.
An Integrated Training Approach
What was most affirming about this project was seeing this used as a new intersection within the existing training program. iTips is now used alongside traditional training and in-person support as a way to stretch that training further. By using games as a complementary part of an integrated training approach, we’re able to have improved outcomes that work for more people.