On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a plan to provide about 33,000 current and former foster youth in California with a free smartphone, complete with a calling plan, wireless service and a mobile hotspot.
The two-year pilot project is a collaboration between telecom provider Boost Mobile and national nonprofit iFoster, which works to support transition-age foster youth. The $22.3 project is an extension of California’s LifeLine program, which is overseen by CPUC and provides affordable communications services for low-income residents in the state.
Boost Mobile will supply phones to foster youth, while iFoster will identify eligible foster youth and help them qualify for the program. All California youth ages 13 to 26 who were in the foster care system after the age of 13 are eligible for the new phone plan.
The hope is that the new plan can help foster youth in California close a digital divide. According to a recent iFoster study, foster youth in the state lag far behind their peers in the general population when it comes to accessing the Internet.
“Our young people will be able to compete in school, earn jobs, and stay in touch with their support network including family and friends despite the disruptions in their lives caused by being in the child welfare system,” said Cox, CEO and founder of Truckee, Calif.-based iFoster, in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. “We believe that access to technology will enable our young people to succeed and transition from care to self-sufficiency as young, productive adults.”
Prizila Dajia Vidal, a former foster youth now living in San Diego, lobbied CPUC for phone access for foster youth. According to Vidal, phones can offer better communication with family members as well as safety, an issue for LGBTQ youth in care.
“As a youth growing up, I had no contact with my parents nor siblings or foster parents. Not even being able to reach my social worker or having a private phone conversation without being heard by everyone else in my placements…It is important for our youth to have safety, having a phone will allow them to call for help or if they’re in any danger their phones can be traced,” Vidal wrote in a letter.
According to iFoster, the pilot program will start distributing phones this summer.