VICTORIA - Thousands of youth in care across British Columbia will receive an Apple iPhone to better connect them to friends, family and available technology.
A statement from the Ministry of Children and Family Development says nearly 4,000 iPhones will be issued over the next two months to youth aged 13 or older who are currently in ministry care.
Minister Mitzi Dean says the program is the first project of its kind in the province and, in collaboration with Telus, will distribute iPhones equipped with voice, five gigabytes of data, a phone case, screen protector and charger, all paid for by government.
Youth in care don’t always have access to the tech they need to stay connected to key people in their lives or access the services they need. That’s why we’re launching our Phones4Youth program 📱!— Mitzi Dean (@MitziDeanBC) October 14, 2021
The initial rollout is expected to be completed before Christmas and the statement says the program will be ongoing, with additional smartphones provided when a child in care turns 13.
Dean says having a phone can support a teen's self-esteem, sense of belonging, maintain their hereditary and cultural connections and ensure they can call for help whenever they need it.
The ministry says Telus Wise, a free digital literacy program, will help educate the teens, their social workers, caregivers and care providers about the technology and the guidelines related to use of the phones.
Pat Griffin, executive director of the Victoria Youth Empowerment Society, says youth in government care don't always have the same access to smartphones or technology that other teens take for granted.
"Providing this technology will not only help level the playing field, but it gives them a better chance to participate in school, in day-to-day social life that is a central feature of teen development and identity, and in the job market as they get older," Griffin says in the statement.
The program is "absolutely necessary," says Griffin, because of the growing dependence on cellphones and apps to share information and access services.