Youth too old for foster care will now have access to free cellphones through recent expansions to Telus’ Mobility for Good program.
The program, which grew to include Northern Canada in September, offers a smartphone and an accompanying two-year plan to young adults transitioning out of foster care.
There’s no charge to enroll, though participants receive monthly bills of zero dollars in their name to help build credit for future financial success.
“This is really just a great service for so many different reasons,” says Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT.
In addition to staying connected to support networks through the plan’s talk and text options, she says access to data will help the youth apply for jobs, especially in communities where WiFi is limited.
On the importance of programs like Mobility for Good, Roberts says youth transitioning out of care can sometimes struggle to pay bills, “especially in the Northwest Territories, where it’s extremely expensive to live.”
“We want to encourage youth to be connected with supports that help them with housing, help them with getting a job,” she says. “This is just one piece that would be really great for them.”
The plan provides participants with unlimited talk and text as well as three gigabytes of data per month. After the initial two-year period, participants can choose to continue with the same plan for $35 per month.
The Mobility for Good program first launched in British Columbia in 2017. In the past three years it has slowly spread across Canada, with its most recent expansion last month including Northern Canada, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
To participate in the program, eligible youth can fill out an online application and have their new smartphones delivered to them once their applications are approved. To be eligible, individuals need to have lived in the child welfare system and be between the age of majority and 26 years old. With their application, youth must also submit a letter of eligibility signed by a youth agency worker.
Nimmi Kanji, director of social purpose programs at Telus, says 5,400 youth have enrolled in the program across the country. She couldn’t say how many of those participants were from Northern Canada, though Roberts says her team has been asked to help with applications so she knows there are NWT youth signing up.
During the challenging transition out of foster care, Kanji calls the Mobility for Good program “a lifeline.”
“There’s a lot of financial stress associated with leaving the system,” she says. “We always want to find a way where we can leverage our resources and capabilities to solve societal issues.”
Kanji said the importance of connectivity has been heightened by the pandemic as feelings of loneliness and anxiety have increased.
Mobility for Good is part of Telus’ Connecting for Good programs – a series of projects with the goal of increasing connectivity for vulnerable Canadians. Kanji cites Telus research demonstrating 85 per cent of surveyed participants report Mobility for Good has helped to relieve financial stress, to access resources and to stay connected.
Since 2018, NWT youth exiting foster care can continue to receive services until they are 23 years old, a four-year extension from the previous cut off age of 19. Roberts suggests youth leaving care connect with resources to help ease transitions.