Computer program helps foster children in studies
By Peter Buttress

Special to The State
February 27, 2003


When abused and neglected children are placed in foster homes, they face enormous obstacles.  Many need psychological help to overcome poor treatment they received from their parents.  And they often must change schools, facing new teachers and making new friends.

Studies show that many children in foster homes fall behind in mathematics and language skills, which are reflected in poor grades and low standardized test scores.  The longer children stay in foster homes, the further behind they fall.

To address this problem, the Children’s Law Office at the USC School of Law, in partnership with the S.C. Department of Social Services, started placing retooled computers two years ago into the homes of foster parents.  Additionally, organizers recruited volunteers -- called Computer Buddies -- to assist foster families with basic computer skills and show foster children how to use the machines for schoolwork.

To date, 189 volunteers have been recruited and 633 computers installed in foster homes throughout South Carolina, including 98 in Richland County and 12 in Lexington County.  But there are about 900 computers sitting in boxes waiting to be shipped.  “One of the ‘barriers is that we don’t have the volunteers needed to help set up these computers and get the kids going on them,” said Kathleen Hayes, program director at Nexuskids, a division of the Children’s Law Office.  “Without those volunteers, these computers can’t get to the child because they have to be set up.  Computers aren’t like a book. You can’t just mail them.”

Computer buddies are recruited from churches, civic organizations, businesses, high schools, technical schools and colleges.

“Computer buddies are people in the community who want to help those who have been abused and neglected,” Hayes said. “A computer buddy is someone who encourages the use of the com­puter, helps maintain the computer for the family and child, and is an educational coach or educational cheerleader for the child.”

Some foster parents with computer skills also have become computer buddies. Donald Wilson, 39, of Lexington took two boys, ages 15 and 16, into his home in August.  Wilson said his foster children use their new computer a lot. Both boys are a year behind in school because of poor or failing grades, But with Wilson’s encouragement and the computer use, their grades have risen to B’s and C’s.  “When I took them in, I told them their grades had to go up,” he said. “I know they have the potential of doing good. I’m very pleased with their progress.”

Clyde Shepard, 57, of Columbia heard about the computer buddy program through his Masonic Lodge. After he volunteered last year, he was assigned to work with a 10-year-old boy in a foster home. The foster family didn’t have a computer because they couldn’t afford one, Shepard said, so they were elated when he installed one.  “Some of the learning pro­grams were real good for (the boy) and helped increase his math knowledge and things like that,” Shepard said. 

The computers used in the program are surplus from state agencies and have been upgraded with the help of Prison Industries.  They include a color printer, CD-ROM, sound card, and modem.  Now owned by the South Carolina Foster Parents Association and loaned to foster families, they also include a large selection of educational software, word processing, spreadsheets and games. 

“In the best of all worlds, when a foster home is equipped with Internet access, a computer buddy can become an e-mail buddy to the foster child and maintain a continuity the child can’t get any other way,” Hayes said.



• 4,989 children were living in foster homes throughout South Carolina as of Oct. 31, 2002.

• 65 percent of foster children return to their homes within one year.

• Of the 3,503 children who left foster homes last year, 2,992 were in foster care for an average of 17 months.

• One-third of school-age foster children are behind in their age appropriate grade level.

• 10 percent of foster children get poor or failing grades in elementary school.

• 25 percent of foster children get poor or failing grades in middle school.

• 28 percent of foster children get poor or failing grades in high school.

• 65 percent of youth leaving foster care have not completed high school.

Sources:   S.C. Department of Social Services; Nexuskids, a division of Children’s Law Office.


To learn more about the program and the requirements to become a computer buddies volunteer, call Roni Caw at (803) 576-5896



Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright © 2005 Computer Buddies
Last modified: June 04, 2008