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Digital Divide Continues to Widen in South Carolina

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by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

If you’ve seen the movie Beautiful Creatures set in South Carolina, one might believe South Carolinians might not be very tech savvy when it comes to technology. Jeremy Iron’s character, Macon, often tells the towns people to “Google It” when he is quoting historical data. Most of the youth were ready to head to the big city to get out of there.

According to the latest data released, Beautiful Creatures, may not be that far off from its depiction of the diamond state as the digital divide continues to widen. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, over 21% of South Carolinians do not have personal computers in the home, and for residents  who do have home computers, almost 16% do not have internet access.

South Carolina ranks near the bottom in the nation when it comes this circumstance; only Mississippi and New Mexico lagged behind South Carolina in the Census findings.

As a fellow South Carolinian, I wish that the Census data surprised me, but sadly, it does not.  Living in a rural area of South Carolina has afforded me the “opportunity” to see firsthand how damaging the digital gap is economically, educationally, and socially.  If you do not have your own computer and internet access at home, have arrangements with someone to use their computer or internet connection, or have transportation to visit the local library or technology center, then you will be left behind in the digital age.  Luckily where I live, we do have a newly renovated public library that has close to 20 computers available for residents to utilize.  However, given the mass closings of public libraries due to lack of funding over the past couple of years, this vital resource no longer exists in areas that may have high percentages of residents without computers or internet access in their homes.

An interesting statement that the head librarian made in the local news report struck a nerve with me and caused me write this post:  ”The digital divide will slowly become the knowledge divide.”  Her statement is already coming to life, given that everything we do, from taking courses, shopping, telecommuting for work, creating and managing businesses, finding love and companionship, are being done on the world wide web.  If you do not have reliable equipment and access to the internet, how will you be able to keep up with those around you who do?  How will you familiarize yourself with the new advances in technology that supposedly make our lives “easier” and more “efficient?”

I believe that it is imperative for citizens and professionals who work in our communities to become more vocal and proactive about the dire need for everyone to have access to the internet, whether it is in their own homes, or being able to visit establishments such as public libraries and technology centers.  If we are on the road to becoming a digital society, then full inclusion needs to be a priority so that everyone will have an equal and fair opportunity to participate.  Technology is not a luxury; it is a necessity in order to function and relate to each other.

What can you do to shrink this growing gap in your state?  Take a closer look at what resources are available (or not) in your community:  what agencies/organizations are present that will allow people to obtain new or used computers for personal use; help when it comes to financing the costs of purchasing, installing, and maintaining computer equipment and internet connection in their homes; and where can people go to access computers and the internet for free?  Once the analysis has been completed, then the next course of action would be to contact your local and state legislators about the gaps prevalent in your community in regards to the availability (and/or lack thereof) of resources, and how those gaps are negatively impacting the lives of residents, as well as the economic, educational, and social statuses of your area.  Without the call for advocacy and hopefully program/institution creations and policy changes, then the digital divide will become the new “haves” and “have nots” predicament.

Advances in computer technology and the Internet have changed the way America works, learns, and communicates. The Internet has become an integral part of America’s economic, political, and social life

Bill Clinton

(Featured image:  Courtesy of pirath-davie.blogpost.com)

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Child Welfare

Head Start May Protect Against Foster Care Placement

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Participating in Head Start may help prevent young children from being placed in foster care, finds a national study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Kids up to age 5 in the federal government’s preschool program were 93 percent less likely to end up in foster care than kids in the child welfare system who had no type of early care and education, said Sacha Klein, MSU assistant professor of social work.

Klein and colleagues examined multiple forms of early care and education – from daycare with a family member to more structured programs – and found Head Start was the only one to guard against foster care placement.

“The findings seem to add to what we already know about the benefits of Head Start,” Klein said. “This new evidence suggests Head Start not only helps kids develop and allows parents to go to work, but it may also help at-risk kids from ending up in the foster care system.”

Klein and colleagues studied the national survey data of nearly 2,000 families in which a child had entered the child welfare system for suspicion of abuse or neglect. Those children were either pulled from the home or were being overseen by a caseworker.

Klein said Head Start may protect against foster care because of its focus on the entire family. Services go beyond providing preschool education to include supporting parental goals such as housing stability, continued education and financial security.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, about a third of them under the age of 5, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. All children in foster care automatically qualify for free Head Start services, regardless of income level.

Klein said the findings suggest policymakers should consider making all children in the child welfare system, including those living at home, automatically eligible for Head Start. That could help prevent more kids from ending up in foster care.

While foster care can be a vital resource for protecting children from abusive and neglectful parents, it is rarely a panacea for young kids, the study notes.

“Indeed, young children who are placed in foster care often have compromised socio-emotional, language and cognitive development and poor early academic and health outcomes,” the authors write. “Trauma and deprivation experienced before removal may largely drive these developmental deficits, but foster care often fails to alleviate them and sometimes can worsen them.”

Klein’s co-authors are Lauren Fries of MSU and Mary Emmons of Children’s Institute Inc. in Los Angeles.

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Human Rights

Rescuing Sex Trafficking Victims

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Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. – Founder of Children of the Night Photo Credit: CalState

Forty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to find Lois Lee, Ph.D., J.D. wandering the streets and alleys of Los Angeles at 3 a.m.; she even did so while pregnant with her son.

Dr. Lee was looking for victims of sex trafficking and those who exploited them.

Walking miles along Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards, the then-24-year-old would hand out business cards with her hotline number, encouraging victims to call and letting them know what kind of help they’d find.

“These are girls, boys and transgender children that would fall between the cracks of the system,” remembers Lee. “They had nowhere to go — no one was providing a bed or a school or offering to take care of these kids.”

So, she created that place.

From 1979 to 1981, Lee housed more than 250 sex trafficking victims in her own home, all while building the Children of the Night outreach program; the privately funded nonprofit organization would become unlike any other in existence at the time, or even today, rescuing children from child prostitution and providing housing, education and treatment.

But perhaps most important, Lee gave them hope.

An Unimaginable Life

Lee was raised in Los Angeles, the eldest child in a family of three girls. It was a childhood she describes as healthy, safe and sheltered.

So when, as a graduate student at California State University, Dominguez Hills, her faculty mentor Jeanne Curran, PhD., then a professor of sociology, introduced her to the underworld of sex trafficking, it was a wake-up call.

“I wanted to make everything better because I just couldn’t imagine someone living in these types of conditions,” explains Lee, who graduated from CSU Dominguez Hills with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science in 1973 and a master’s in sociology in 1977.

It was at CSUDH that she developed the skills she’d later use to address child sex trafficking. Lee also taught courses at the campus’s Social Systems Research Center, then led by Dr. Curran. The center has since been renamed the Urban Community Research Center.

“Jeanne became a mentor for me, both on- and off-campus. She influenced my life and academic choices so much,” says Lee, a first-generation college student.

“She and CSU Dominguez Hills empowered me.”

Victims, Not Criminals

Late one night in 1977, Lee received a call from a woman who operated an escort service. A 17-year-old she worked with had not returned and she was unable to contact her.

Afraid, she had called Lee for guidance. Lee went to the police, who dismissed the call and refused to help. The next morning, the girl’s body was found; she had become one of the Hillside Stranglers’victims.

Frustrated by the lack of resources that were available to these girls, Lee appeared on an L.A. news broadcast, giving out her personal phone number and encouraging prostitutes with knowledge of the case to reach out to her directly. She promised confidentiality.

“I coordinated everything just as I had learned from Jeanne at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee recalls. “And that was really the beginning of my work.”

Lee would go on to play a critical role in the Hillside Strangler trial, testifying in the case and coordinating witnesses for the prosecution.

At just 27, Lee garnered attention when she sued the Los Angeles Police Department for prosecuting underage prostitutes while letting their customers go free.

She won the case and has gone on to file a number of other lawsuits.

“I taught vice detectives nationwide that there were children prostituting and they needed to be treated differently,” says the President’s Volunteer Action Award recipient. She strongly advocated – and still does – to have the children referred to and treated as victims, not criminals.

Education: The Key to Success

To date, Children of the Night’s president and founder is credited with rescuing more than 10,000 children from prostitution in the U.S.

The organization’s shelter, located in Van Nuys, California, offers no-cost housing for as many as 12 children ages 11 to 17. They attend classes at the on-site school, receive individualized treatment, and participate in fun outings. A nationwide toll-free hotline is also staffed 24/7.

Lee sees education as the most fundamental of the services they offer, and attendance is mandatory for all residents.

“What’s really important about the development of any society is to educate the people,” she explains. “Through education, I was able to learn about the world. Education empowers.”

While children are offered treatment to manage trauma, their past experiences are not the focus, Lee stresses. “I don’t feel sorry for the children with whom I work,” she says. “[That] incapacitates their ability to become strong and independent. I want the world for my kids. I have very high expectations of them.”

Which is not to say she isn’t deeply empathetic to what they’ve faced.

“There is no way that I can make what happened to them go away, but I can … put distance between their old lifestyle and their life now.”

Still Fighting

Today, Lee is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in rescuing child sex trafficking victims, raising awareness on a topic that previously wasn’t talked about. In 1981, the General Accounting Office estimated there were 600,000 children under the age of 16 working as prostitutes in the United States. Today, that number is estimated to be 100,000.

In January 2017, Children of the Night announced a new global initiative to rescue 10,000 more children worldwide from sex trafficking.

Lee is also passionate about giving back to the campus that helped turn her dream into an advocacy mission that has no doubt saved thousands of lives.

“So much of what I have done and have been able to do in my life is because of my time at CSU Dominguez Hills,” Lee says. “The faculty raised me and nourished me. They liked to take risks and they challenged traditional thinking processes. “Dominguez Hills taught me how to break down barriers.”

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LGBTQ

It’s National Coming Out Day

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Today is National Coming Out Day which is a day of raising awareness and destigmatization for the LGBTQ community.

Texting is the preferred method of communication for young people.

Proof you have great friends who also will throw you a party.

Great Advice, don’t feel pressured to do anything or be afraid to show your true self…Write your own story!

Happy Coming Out Day!

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