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A helping hand for troubled youngsters;Curriculum materials;Curriculum materials;Software

BILLY BREAKS THE RULES. CD-Rom for Power Mac or Windows 95 Pentium PC. pound;33.50. Information Plus, 3 Hill of Heddle, Finstown, Orkney, KW17.

An imaginative computer- based couselling tool for troubled youngsters, produced by an Orkney-based multimedia company, this product has just won the Highland round of this year's John Logie Baird Scottish Innovation awards and will go on to the national final next month.

Les and Fiona Cowan of Information Plus believe Billy Breaks the Rules is the first package of its kind in the UK, valuable not just for disaffected young people but for the teachers, social workers, foster parents and care staff who work with them. It aims to let children working with a skilled helper express feelings and fears, and to experiment with choices to deal safely with difficult issues or decisions they may face.

Billy's life with an alternative family is the central theme (the National Foster Care Association are joint sponsors) but staff and pupils from a range of schools and care units will also find the scenarios relevant.

Through cartoon animations, sound effects, speech and music, the game simulates 15 scenarios, such as being caught stealing and having pocket money cut.

Players can then choose different responses (such as stealing more cash, or talking to the family), then watch and discuss the outcomes with a teacher or carer.

I had both a caveat and a plaudit about this multimedia package. The caveat is that many children have suffered abuse and trauma, often on a scale we can't even imagine. Some of the "fun" effects, like hissing snakes with menacing voices, could trigger children's terrors rather than reassure them.

The plaudit is that Information Plus listened to concerns, and substituted several of these scenarios, an advantage of this medium over books and pamphlets.

The lesson is to have people with specialist knowledge or experience (including young people) check them at an early stage.

This company has a track record in producing software for teachers and social workers (for instance, Bruce's Multimedia Story, a counselling software package for younger children). Billy Breaks the Rules has a discounted launch price of pound;33.50.

Sarah Nelson Contact 01856 761334, or email informationplus@compuserve.com Sarah Nelson is a child protection specialist

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