The courtroom can be a daunting experience for service users and professionals alike. Service users often have no idea what to expect before entering a family court. For social workers, a first experience in court can come without much preparation.
“I think there have been cases of [professionals] being thrown in at the deep end and receiving basic guidance,” says Sarah Parsons, principal social worker and assistant director at Cafcass.
In a bid to “demystify” the care proceedings process Cafcass and Kent University have launched an interactive game that takes people through a family court case. In ‘My Courtroom’, players follow Rosie, a young girl who is going through a private law case before she makes a disclosure that means public law proceedings are necessary.
“It’s lifelike,” says Parsons. “We’ve used our expertise to bring in practice dilemmas right through the court process and always bring it back to Rosie and how it’s making her feel.”
The training version of the game is available, while a second for service users is being developed. Kent is using the game to train its social work students, while Cafcass is using it to help more experienced professionals explore practice issues.
“The practice dilemmas that the game raises can be used to explore things like separation of siblings. There are a number of themes in it that can prompt discussion and explore practice dilemmas. But also it’s about court skills and knowing how to interact and present in a professional way in a court environment,” says Parsons.
Carolyn Taylor-Score a practice supervisor at Cafcass says the game can help reduce the “anxiety” for people going to court for the first time, and help experienced practitioners reinforce their knowledge.
“When I qualified, which was 27 years ago, the induction was more of a paper exercise, you were given cases more or less immediately [with] very little interaction. There were some training sessions but nothing like this,” Taylor-Score says. “Did I learn something? I did.”
Parsons says family court advisors were involved throughout the game’s development to ensure it was “absolutely right” and “as helpful as possible”.
“A whole part of it is demystifying the family court by providing a link to our service users at the outset of cases so they can see into the family court, interact with the characters on the screen and in the story. Then we will be using it with the children that we are working with.”