This morning marked a huge win for California foster youth.
A proposed $22 million pilot program that will provide mobile phones for foster youth between the ages of 13 and 26 passed a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) vote today. Wireless telecom provider Boost Mobile will supply smartphones with free unlimited voice, text, data, and a hotspot for internet access to the 33,000 current and former California foster youth, while iFoster will identify recipients and distribute the phones accordingly. It is anticipated that the Pilot Program will start distributing devices in the summer of 2019.
The majority of current and former foster youth lack access to cell phones, laptops, and other devices. As a result, young people in foster care can find themselves disconnected from their peers and the world at large. This has major safety, social, educational and employment implications.
We will be leveraging existing child welfare eligibility based on foster care status (applicant is or was in foster care on or after their 13th birthday), age range based on county, county approval that a foster youth can have cell service, and California residency.
This initiative is an extension of the California Lifeline program, a federal program managed by the CPUC providing phones to low income individuals.
This is the first pilot program of its kind to penetrate a specific at-risk population. Depending on the success of this two-year pilot, it could be implemented as Lifeline’s program model moving forward.
This Program Will Change Lives
Giving every California foster youth a cell phone brings a security with it that will drastically change lives for the better.
In 2016 – 2017, iFoster conducted a survey of 3,063 foster youth in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, and Placer counties, and found that only about 21% of urban foster youth and 5% of rural foster youth had regular access to technology.
Smartphone ownership helps bridge the digital gap that foster youth feel among their non-fostered peers every day. Internet access is crucial when it comes to school work, job opportunities, and other obligations that come with being an independent adult, like taxes, insurance, and more.
“This has a lifelong impact on their ability to succeed in school, find employment, connect with their support network and build the skills they need to achieve their potential,” says Serita Cox, iFoster’s Co-Founder and CEO.
This technology will also allow them to better communicate with their peers, family, and friends. And since every foster youth in California will have a cell phone, these youth will be able to build and stay connected to their support networks as they achieve successful independence.
Of course, there is the additional element of safety that comes with cell phone access. The ability to dial 911 or a loved one in the case of an emergency can be life-saving in a dangerous situation.
“A phone with internet access is a powerful tool they can always have with them to help in times of need. It is also a deterrent from being lured into exploitation such as CSEC, of which 50-80% are former foster youth,” explains Reid Cox, iFoster’s Co-Founder and CFO.
Above all, giving California foster youth smartphones is a huge step in the right direction in investing the time, care and resources that foster youth deserve. We are confident that this exciting initiative will help in our mission to successfully transition foster youth to adulthood.