When California-based nonprofit iFoster asked foster teens and caregivers what they needed, access to a computer was the top request across the country. Perhaps that's not surprising given estimates that fewer than 20% of foster youth own a computer. But what is surprising, as you'll read below, is what can happen when you give foster teens laptops.
With support from child welfare agencies, foundations and individual donors, iFoster has put laptops in the hands of thousands of foster teens across the country. In Los Angeles County alone, more than 2,000 laptops have been distributed, thanks to financial help from Foster Care Counts and support from the county's Department of Children and Family Services.
But as a USC news report explains it, iFoster founder Serita Cox didn't want to stop with that.
"It’s not just about giving them a laptop," she said. "It’s about evaluating the program and developing a model that can be replicated nationwide."
So Jeremy Goldbach, an assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, was recruited to evaluate the laptop initiative. He surveyed participants' academic performance before receiving a laptop and then followed up after a year. He also considered the foster teens' general life satisfaction.
Academic and social benefits
Goldbach is cautious about making too much of the results because his study didn't include a control group, but Cox was floored by what he found, according to the USC article.
"Grades went up, missed school days went down, they applied to college more and they applied to jobs more," she said. "At the same time, self-esteem went up, depression went down and thoughts of suicidality went down."
Goldbach said what he found points to the need for further examination of technology access for foster kids – and that his interviews with participants did back up his statistical analysis
"They said things like it’s been really important for them to be able to do their homework on their own time, to not have to use a shared computer in their foster home, to not have to go to the library or do their work at school," he said. "They also said it makes them feel more like their friends and that they feel like they fit in more."
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