Benefits of On-Line Technology for Foster Youth

Car mechanics, landscapers, engineers, doctors, teachers, law officers, military, and entertainers today all rely upon computers and online technology. Whether it is ordering a part for an engine, determining what plant is best for a region’s garden zone, promoting a concert, or any number of tasks and responsibilities that many jobs and careers call for on a daily basis, computer skills are essential in today’s world. Indeed, computer skills are even needed to properly work a cash register today. For foster children, these skills are especially important if they are to meet success after they leave the foster care system by means of aging out, or becoming too old for the system to care for them. With those foster children who age out of the system, there are no foster parents, child welfare agencies, or birth family members to help them, or even to provide for them. Across the globe, the majority of foster children in all age groups have difficulty with school, with so many dropping out of school each year. In truth, only a small percentage of all foster children who age out graduate from college. Lack of financial skills, work experiences, social skills, and various forms of training, along with the lack of support from family and caring adults makes it even more problematic.

Furthermore, as many foster children do not graduate from high school, they find it difficult to obtain a job that will be able to provide for them financially. Adding to this, most simply do not have the skills, training, or tools necessary in procuring a stable job. Many foster children who age out also turn to drugs and even crime, thus resulting in jail sentences. In actual fact, the percentage of those in jail at any given time who have had some experience with foster care in their lives is a staggering statistic at well over seventy percent. Certainly, it is a bleak future that most foster children face as they age out of a system; a system that may have failed them with the resources, training, and support they sorely need in order to be a success, or even a positive contribution to society. For these children, and for these young adults, computer skills are especially relevant if they hope to find a career in today’s ever competitive world, a world where jobs are becoming more and more difficult to obtain.

Darren was one of those foster children who made it through high school, while at the same time aging out of the system. His experiences in the foster care system were not pleasant, as he bounced from home to home his nine years in care, living in a total of twelve foster homes during that time. He was anxious to leave the foster care system and try to make it on his own. Yet, when he did, he found that it was difficult to find a job as well as a place to stay. Within the first six months of aging out, Darren was living in an abandoned building at night, while pounding the pavement looking for a way to earn money for food and an apartment. Fortunately, Darren had a love for cars and computers. Despite not having any additional education past high school, Darren was finally able to convince an automobile mechanic that his knowledge and skills in both cars and computers would be beneficial to them. Soon, Darren was not only working as a mechanic, but he was also instructing his new boss on how to better use computers in the store and in the business.

For generations, students were learning their reading, writing, and arithmetic out of textbooks. In fact, for years students would carry several textbooks home each night with them, working late into the evening on their homework for the following day. A handy dictionary would be within reach in order to find how to spell difficult words. On weekends, children might visit a nearby library, searching through encyclopedias for information. To be sure, books were essential for a student’s learning. Along with this, these young learners were also required to have paper, pencils, and pens with them each day, all usually contained in some sort of folder or binder, as many classes included a great deal of writing.

Today’s classrooms are quickly changing; changing into something that looks like it came out of a Science Fiction comic book. The 21st century student in many classrooms no longer studies out of a textbook. Instead, the students of today are learning from computers, laptops, Ipads, and other electronic devices. My own children come home each day with a netbook, a small, lightweight, and inexpensive computer, assigned by their school. Indeed, gone are those days for children in many nations where textbooks were the norm. School across the globe are fazing out school text books and replacing them with computers, much to the chagrin of the textbook industry who now struggle to find ways of remaining relevant and operational. Both public and school libraries are now offering books on computers, as well. Along with this, the 21st century student also does not need a dictionary nearby, as most computers have a dictionary, or spell check, built into its programming. In addition, many encyclopedia companies have already ceased printing paper bound books, and instead are trying to find success through online distribution. These companies face difficult competition from the tremendous wealth of free information found online.

For the foster child, schools are very much a difficult environment, and far too many times, these foster children are unable to meet the demands and challenges that are placed upon them while enrolled in a school. Most struggle with reading and math skills. Furthermore, children in foster care often have a difficult time with exhibiting proper school behavior during the school day. Several times, school is a constant reminder that they are, sadly, foster children without a true home. The continuous reminder that their peers are living with biological family members while they are not is a difficult reality for them, and can be manifested in several ways. Some foster children simply withdraw and become anti-social, in an attempt to escape their current environment and world they have been thrust into. For many foster children, violent behavior becomes the norm, as they not only act out in a negative and disruptive fashion in the school, but in their foster home, too, prompting yet another move to one more foster home and another school. Quite simply, school is often times the last place a foster child wants to be at, as the thought of survival is much higher on the list than that of academics.

Online researching allows the foster children a wealth of benefits. To begin with, as many foster children are behind with their school work, usually from multiple disruptions or moving from one home to another, online researching allows foster children to quickly make up ground. The amount of material found on the internet is so vast, and so thorough in many areas, the foster child/student is able to save significant amounts of time while conducting research. Foster parents are also able to better assist their struggling foster child home work tasks, as access to many forms of information is easily accessible to even the novice user. Without a doubt; children are much more adept at using the computer than many adults. Remember those days when parents would ask their children with help when using a VCR machine? Today’s adults ask their children with help when it comes to all things computer based, and today’s children are fearless in this accord. Yet, for the academically struggling foster child, it is pertinent to the child’s success that the foster parent assists the child with school work, and online researching is one way that allows the foster parent to better assist the child in their home.

As many foster children come from backgrounds and homes that did not encourage or support school and education, simple academic based organizational skills are often lacking with a foster child. In regards to online researching, foster children are able to learn these simple skills as many web based research sites allow the user to organize the resources by using keywords. Foster children are also better able to organize resources through the use of folders and separate tabs on their computers. Even using the simple copy and paste method, foster children can better save their materials and resources in a quick and easy fashion, much quicker and much easier than by taking notes from a textbook, as the traditional student did until recently. To be sure, online researching has the potential of increasing a foster child’s academic progress and academic success.

As one who worked in public schools for close to two decades, I can assure you that each child learns in a different way. To put it another way, all students do not learn the same way, and we would be doing a great disservice to many children if we believed or acted otherwise. A good teacher in the 21st century knows this, and many schools across the globe are changing the way they instruct their students. Indeed, foster children may benefit from a mixed blend of learning, both in the traditional classroom, as well as at home through an online venue. One recent study concluded that "students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction." (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). For foster children who quickly fall through the gaps in schools and become the forgotten or lost children, it is critical that we use all the resources within our means in an attempt to help them with their education. Online technology is a tremendous boon in this area, offering a treasure of helpful and educational websites, programs, apps, and other online resources.

For much more on the subject of online technology and social networking with your child from foster care, read Dr. John DeGarmo’s book Keeping Foster Children Safe Online.