According to a study released today by nonprofit organizations iFoster and Foster Care Counts, a researcher at the University of Southern California found that access to a personal computer positively impacts the lives of youth in foster care.
The study evaluated the impact of computer ownership on 730 youths’ lives by measuring academic performance, social connections and life satisfaction.
According to the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of teens in the U.S. had access to a computer and 70 percent of low-income teens had computer access. But, USC researchers found that only 20 percent of urban foster youth and 5 percent of rural foster youth did.
“If you look at the percentage of foster youth owning laptops in the U.S., they rank among the bottom third of countries globally,” said iFoster co-founder Serita Cox in a press release.
“Those statistics put us ahead of Uganda and behind Kenya,” iFoster CFO Reid Cox said. “With computer access, grades improved, truancy declined, job research increased, and relationships between foster youth and their biological families improved.”
iFoster, which provides resources and technology for foster youth, including job placements with select companies, has provided over 7,000 low cost computers to foster youth across the country over the past four years.
“It’s hard to imagine growing up today in Los Angeles without a computer,” said Jeanne Pritzker, founder of Foster Care Counts, an L.A.-based non-profit dedicated to raising the profile of foster care issues, in a press release. Foster Care Counts partnered with iFoster to provide laptops to Los Angeles’ in-college and college-bound foster youth ages 17 to 24.
Krystal Lopez, 22, is a grateful recipient of a laptop through iFoster. Facing a $900 fine from a Los Angeles library, Lopez had been unable to access the library’s public computers.
“I couldn’t use the computers there, I couldn’t research anything,” she said.
Lopez was relieved to encounter an understanding manager who cleared her fine, which had added up without her knowledge, and gave her a new card. Lopez uses her laptop often, and said it makes research and keeping in touch with friends a lot easier.
“This is just one of the many examples of how we train and assist our youth,” Reid Cox said.
While Mr. and Mrs. Cox work to provide computers to foster youth, they also just marked the one-year anniversary of the iFoster Jobs Program, a partnership with several businesses to provide employment for California foster youth.
A total of 50 to 70 youth are currently employed through the program, mostly in the grocery industry, and the program has a 90 percent retention rate, according to iFoster. iFoster assisted in matching youth with jobs at Raley’s, Ralph’s, Food4less, Nabisco and Starbucks. Additional employers hiring youth include Pepsi, Superior and Safeway.
Foster youth learn about the jobs program through their iFoster membership. Now child welfare partners will be also able to identify youth who are interested in the jobs program by working with iFoster in placing the youth.
Lopez landed a job with Starbucks and Nordstrom in Glendale, Calif., through the jobs program. The offer came after a year of after aging out of care and experiencing unemployment.
While she had work experience before, she credits iFoster with helping her refine her skills and preparing her to excel at her job.
“The hard part is maintaining the job,” Lopez said. “I was out of the work for a while. They trained us and I had to remember to watch my mouth – not to curse. They challenged everybody, so you really have to want this.”
iFoster provides foster youth all-day training classes on five consecutive Saturdays.
“You leave with nothing in your hands, but you learn something every time,” Lopez said. “The rewards come later.”
Some of these rewards include having access to a computer, online learning opportunities that can lead to promotions, applying for new jobs or financial aid, registering for classes – things most young people don’t think twice about.
iFoster and Foster Care Counts hope that the new research demonstrating the positive impact of computer ownership will spur an expansion of programs that work to bridge the digital divide faced by youth in foster care.
Sawsan Morrar is a master’s student at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and a freelance journalist based in Sacramento. She was one of the first participants in the Journalism for Social Change Massive Online Open Course.