22 July 2020

Call to close the digital divide for care leavers

New rapid research published today (22 July) by CELCIS, has revealed that COVID-19 has further deepened the impact of digital exclusion for Scotland’s care leavers.

With lockdown restrictions requiring more access online – from education to banking, socialisation to entertainment, and all important health advice – any digital connection denied through lack of IT kit, broadband or WIFI, or digital literacy, risked these young people being even more isolated, potentially preventing them from access to vital information and services.

Working with local authorities who have a ‘corporate responsibility’ for young people transitioning from their care, a team at CELCIS and the University of Edinburgh reviewed what has been happening over the last four months and the existing barriers to inclusion.

Bridging the digital divide for care experienced young people in Scotland: If not now, when? explores how the local authorities have responded to these specific needs during this time, and the impact on the health, wellbeing, and rights of care leavers. It identifies employment, finance, mental health, education and rights and participation among the key concerns in addition to the role digital connection now has in daily living.

It concludes that digital access is a key rights and inequality issue which has been amplified during the pandemic but that many of the solutions to improving digital inclusion have already been identified. What is required is a co-ordinated and concerted activity at national and local levels to implement these. It recommends six key actions:

1. Digital connection and inclusion must be viewed through the dual lenses of rights and participation, and of health and wellbeing.

2. Corporate parents at both national and local levels apply the ‘assumption of entitlement’ principle to the provision of hardware /connection and ongoing support.

3. IT and digital policies are ‘care-proofed’ to ensure that they meet the needs of care experienced young people, specifically ensuring available digital platforms that are user-friendly and driven primarily by the engagement needs of care experienced young people. Local authorities and corporate parents avoid the so-called ‘one-size-fits-all’ corporate solutions and ensure a range of digital platforms and programmes necessary for maximum inclusion.

4. Each statutory Corporate Parenting plan should explicitly detail what strategic action is being taken to ensure that their care experienced young people have the necessary tech hardware, freely available connectivity (broadband/Wi-Fi and data) and the competence and confidence to be fully included.

5. Each individual Looked After, Pathways and Aftercare support plan should explicitly reference and address any need and remove any barrier in relation to digital inclusion. This should include the provision of suitable tech hardware, data allowances and connectivity, and ensure young people have the necessary digital competence and confidence to be fully connected.

6. The Connecting Scotland project should be expanded to allocate dedicated tailored funding for care experienced young people experiencing digital exclusion and create a simpler way to access provision and support at local level.