ANCHORAGE, Alaska—There are 1,600 to 1,700 foster children in Alaska and, if national statistics hold, then only about 50% of them have regular access to computers.
To some folks, that may not seem like a major deprivation. But in an age when education relies more heavily on personal computers, and modern social networking is closely linked to the internet, foster kids without computers do face important difficulties.
State Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) himself the product of foster homes, says that foster youth end up going, "to college in much smaller numbers than the general population." He adds they "don't have the opportunity everyone else has, and we want to be that everyone gets to start life on a level playing field."
So Gara, and members of a volunteer organization called "Facing Foster Care in Alaska" are working to see that more foster children get the computers they need. This week the group launched a summer-drive to get more computers into the hands of more foster kids.
In the 2 years they've been doing this, they've managed to distribute 125 computers. This year they want to get even more.
Amanda Metivier is Statewide Coordinator for "Facing Foster Care in Alaska." Her research shows that Foster Children, on average, change homes 3 times a year. This amount of change often means that they're changing schools, as well as households. The disruption has negative effects on a child's education.
Again, research conducted by Metivier shows that, perhaps because of these disruptions, less than 70% of foster chilren earn high school diplomas. In addition, less than 9% of them go on to obtain 4-year college degrees -- a rate almost one-third lower than the national average of 24%.
The experience of former foster child Becca Shier, now a 21-year-old college student, illustrates the problem.
Becca was placed into foster care as a pre-teen -- due to drug abuse on the part of her parents.
When she was in high school, she had to perform many homework assignments on a computer.
Naturally, Becca used desktop computers in the homes where she was placed in foster care.
In her Junior year, Becca recalls being assigned nine essays by her english teacher. She had completed 7 of them when the foster family she was with was forced to relinquish her to another foster home.
Becca sought to take her school work with her, but for some reason, the foster family that owned the computer on which she'd done her homework assignments ignored her requests to e-mail her the essays. "They never gave them to me," Rebecca now says wistfully."And so I lost those."
It's challenges like those which "Facing Foster Care in Alaska" is trying to mitigate.
Having their own computer gives young people some continuity in their lives. It also allows them to carry personal photographs with them where ever they go.
So this week, Gara kicked off a campaign with the group to try to raise more donations. Volunteers will accept any computer in working order that's less than 4-years-old. They'll also accept cash donations.
Anyone interested is asked to contact Gara's office at 269-0106.