As a former foster youth, access to certain resources isn’t something I’m very familiar with. I, as well as other court system-involved youth, are inherently barred from utilizing available technology to obtain invaluable resources due to the nature of our situation of being placed outside our homes. In an era where much can be acquired from the simple click of a button on a screen, it can be surprising to realize that life isn’t as simple or instant for foster youth who lack access to technology. In a technological age full of progress and innovation, how can there be any hardship at all?
To me, “access” means specifically something that is needed for entry to a life of more privilege, but is unfairly distributed — and not even given in some cases — among disenfranchised minorities in American society. I have seen for myself how much more difficult it is for foster youth to stay connected to their origin family and peers. I have also seen how hard it is to access the resources they need, such as housing and healthcare, as opposed to youth outside the system. There’s also a greater risk of homelessness for foster youth, making it so much harder to gain access to resources. Why do foster youth and dually-involved youth lack equal access to resources that may be taken for granted by their non-court system-involved counterparts? I think that the lack of access to resources has to do with the trauma of being placed outside one’s home. Due to being moved around often, foster youth experience fewer social connections and an unstable connection with school and placement. This can lead to less support than is required to promote positive well-being and recovery from traumas caused by the foster care system. It can also lead to less support for trauma that existed before system involvement, including negatively impacted mental health and a higher school dropout rate that are directly caused by the systemic oppression in educational institutions and systematic oppression in the workplace faced by people of color.
During the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to have access to technology — a phone and a laptop — to obtain food through a county-subsidized meal program. This can be considered a privilege because homeless youth and foster youth can only access technology when they are able to. I used my electronic devices as a classroom and as a studio for creative projects. These devices also allowed me to communicate with my caseworker and stay in therapy, which greatly helped me throughout the multiple transitions of placement that I had. I didn’t count myself as fortunate to have a means to communicate as I probably should have. Many houseless and court system-involved youth lack the much-needed resources that a phone or laptop can provide. When more youth have access to even the most basic, taken-for-granted forms of technology in the form of a cell phone or laptop, awareness and education for technological literacy grows so that every foster youth can use technology as a tool to connect them with opportunities, such as higher education and gainful employment, as well as the option of virtually connecting with their peers amidst the pandemic.
Access to technology can be a key to a golden, spectacular world or doors opening up for you. Equal access for everybody is something worth fighting for until and even after complete equity is achieved. This is worth every effort to reform the broken system by amplifying the voices of foster youth, listening to their stories, and prioritizing the youth, especially disabled youth, youth of color, and LGBTQIA+ youth, in both active discourse and in the process of actualizing change itself. I think that everyone deserves to be “in” and to have access if it means that everyone gets the same key to unlock the same door to whatever splendor already awaits those who are innately privileged.