Nearly 4,000 youth in B.C. government care will receive a smart phone to help keep them connected to friends and family, as well as improve access to online services.
The province’s Phones4Youth program will distribute smartphones from Telus to every B.C. youth in care age 13 or older over the next two months, according to a release from the provincial government.
“Youth in care told us they don’t always have access to the essential technology they need to stay connected to school and key people in their lives, like friends, family members or mentors,” said Mitzi Dean, minister of children and family development. “Access to a phone can support youth in building their self-esteem and sense of belonging, and help them to maintain important hereditary and cultural connections, as well as enhance their safety, so they can call for immediate assistance if they ever need it.”
The program will be ongoing, with additional smartphones being provided when any youth in care reaches the age of eligibility. Youth will receive an Apple iPhone with voice and five gigabytes of data, along with a phone case, screen protector and charger, according to the province.
“While cellphones provide a sense of safety and security, this program does more than just that. It helps bridge the divide between youth in care and most other teens,” said Taylor Maynard, a member of the provincial director of child welfare’s Youth Advisory Council. “It allows youth in care to experience what most teens enjoy nowadays — texting, Facetiming and connecting with friends. It provides a semblance of normalcy to these youth whose lives have been so different than most.”
Telus Wise, a free digital literacy program, will help educate youth, social workers, caregivers and care providers on balancing the benefits and the risks digital technologies and social media can present. The province said guidelines and ongoing support will be available, so youth can be supported to learn to manage their smartphone in a responsible and safe way.
As of August 2021, B.C. had 5,163 children and youth in government care, the lowest number in 30 years, according to the provincial government.