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
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
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
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.”
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.
BY THE NUMBERS
• 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
• 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
• 25 percent of foster children get poor or failing grades in
• 28 percent of foster children get poor or failing grades in
• 65 percent of youth leaving foster care have not completed
Sources: S.C. Department of Social
Services; Nexuskids, a division of Children’s Law Office.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To learn more about the program and
the requirements to become a computer buddies volunteer, call Roni Caw at