Sure, every kid wants a smartphone, but there are some whose lives could depend on them.
Last week, the California Public Utilities Commissioners voted to approve a program that will give foster youths all over California a free smartphone. The two-year pilot program is a partnership between cell carrier Boost Mobile and iFoster, a nonprofit organization that provides foster kids with resources like job training, tutoring, and even eye exams and glasses.
The Boost Mobile phone plan will include unlimited text, talk, and hotspot capabilities.
iFoster’s CEO, Serita Cox, told USA Today that “a lot of these young people are completely disconnected, especially in rural areas. The primary purpose (of the program) is to get them on the grid.”
While many of us consider our phones to be a convenience, foster kids find it difficult to survive without them.
“Our teenage clients often experience multiple displacements, moving between different foster and group homes. The kids’ lives are thrown into upheaval,” says Eddie Tsang, Dependency Attorney at Children’s Law Center of California.
Tsang told Parentology that smartphones would allow foster kids to keep in contact with the important figures in their lives, particularly by providing them with access to email communication, which would not change no matter how many times their physical location does.
“With the appropriate privacy and parental controls,” Tsang says, “smartphones would help these kids manage their lives and achieve as much normalcy as possible, given their unpredictable living situations.”
Smartphones would also allow foster kids a better chance at securing employment. Without a reliable phone number, potential employers would have no way to contact a foster youth, and likely wouldn’t go to the trouble of figuring out how to reach them.
Most importantly, however, there’s the issue of safety. Wende Nichols-Julien, CEO of the child welfare advocacy group CASA of Los Angeles, told LAist that foster youth can sometimes run into dangerous situations in their foster homes, and that they can be vulnerable to sex trafficking.
“Without access to a phone, it’s really hard to get in touch with people who can keep you safe,” she said.
According to AdoptUSKids, an advocacy group for foster youth, there are currently more than 55,000 kids in the California foster care system. They say that while 5,500 children are adopted each year, around 2,000 California children need an adoptive family every day.