North

Program that offers free phones to youth leaving foster care expanded to North

A program that provides free smartphones and data plans to young people leaving foster care is being expanded to the North. It's a partnership between TELUS and Children's Aid Foundation of Canada.

Partnership between TELUS and Children's Aid Foundation of Canada launched in B.C. in 2017

Under the program, young people transitioning from care are given a free smartphone and a data plan that includes unlimited calls and texts and up to 3GB of monthly data usage. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

A program that provides free smartphones and data plans to young people leaving foster care is being expanded to the North.

The TELUS "Mobility for Good" program was launched three years ago in B.C., as a partnership between TELUS and the Children's Aid Foundation of Canada. Since then it has expanded to other provinces as well.

Under the program, young people transitioning from care are given a free smartphone and a data plan that includes unlimited calls and texts and up to 3GB of monthly data usage, for two years.

"I think it's just a really wonderful way to provide a support, in a simple way," said Simone Fournel, a senior policy and project strategist with the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services.

Fournel said young people leaving foster care often don't have the same supports that others do, making it hard to do things such as find work, explore educational opportunities, or simply stay connected with loved ones. 

She said having easy access to the internet can be a huge help for young people struggling to adjust to life outside of care. 

Simone Fournel, with Yukon Department of Health and Social Services, said young people leaving foster care often don't have the same supports that others do. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

"This is just one way to help solve a lot of challenges that they may have in their life," Fournel said.

"We expect quite a few youth to really make use of it, but we really don't have a sense of the numbers just yet."

According to TELUS, more than 5,400 youth across the country have enrolled in the program since 2017.

Building positive credit

The phones and data plans are paid for by the company, but the billing is done in the youth's name to help them build positive credit and prepare to manage their own finances.

Tammy Roberts, who is with the Foster Family Coalition in the N.W.T., said the program is especially welcome now, during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said it's a stressful time for everyone, especially young people transitioning out of care.

"Maybe people of an older age are able to be more flexible when it comes to the pandemic but being a teenager is really hard, and that transition to independence is really hard — so I can only imagine the stress it would cause during the pandemic as well," she said.

Having a phone will help young people find the support they need, she said.

"That's how you reach out for help. That's how you look for a job. That's how you maybe get yourself in contact with a self-help group," she said.

"Those are things that I think everyone else takes for granted because we have those supports in our lives."

With files from Roch Shannon Fraser and Lawrence Nayally

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