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By OW Staff

State Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) gave a “thumbs up” recently to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for approving an extension of the iFoster Pilot Program, which provides these youth with free smartphones and cellular service. This decision is in line with Wilk’s SB 546 bill which would enshrine this extension into law, ensuring that the CPUC continues to provide foster youth with these crucial resources—empowering many of these young people to successfully transition out of the foster care system.

“The iFoster program is a ‘LifeLine’ for foster youth. If my legislation, and the unanimous support of it by my colleagues, nudged the CPUC into doing the right thing, all the better,” said Wilk. “This is great news for our state’s foster youth, and I applaud the CPUC for taking this action to continue the state’s policy of providing foster youth with free smartphones and cellular service.”

Foster youth face many unique challenges, and the data on foster youth outcomes is disheartening:

According to a report by Dr. Jeremy Goldbach, a professor at the USC School of Social Work, while 90 percent of youth in the U.S. And 79 percent of low-income youth have access to a computer at home, only 21 percent of urban and 5 percent of rural foster youth have regular computer access.

Approximately 66 percent of aging-out foster youth will be unemployed and only 5 percent can expect to work more than 20 hours per week.

Studies have found that 8 percent of transition-age foster youth drop out of high school compared to 3 percent of the statewide student population and are also at greater risk of failing the California High School Exit Examination.

More than 40 percent of these youth have contemplated suicide, and 24 percent have attempted it.

Less than 4 percent of foster youth will achieve a bachelor’s degree.

Having a smartphone through the iFoster program bridges this divide. These resources are essential for succeeding in school, communicating with family and friends, securing gainful employment, connecting to social services, making telehealth appointments, contacting emergency services, and meeting their basic needs—and the need for these devices has increased dramatically during the pandemic.

“We simply cannot allow any more foster youth to fall through the cracks. As the CPUC finalizes their plans to continue the program, I am hopeful that the continued movement of SB 546 will hold them accountable until this is a done deal,” concluded Wilk.