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April 2023Vol. 24, No. 3Literature Review Summarizes Youth Perspective on Technology Benefits, Risks

Foster caregivers, group home staff, and child welfare professionals sometimes restrict young people’s use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as smart phones and social media, due to potential risk. However, there are benefits for youth in care who use ICTs, including staying connected to friends and family and self-expression.

A literature review in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal reports on the experiences of youth in care and their use of ICTs. The authors included findings from eight studies published between 2010 and 2020. Only studies featuring interviews with youth were reviewed.

The review’s primary purpose was to gather youth’s perceptions of the benefits and risks of ICT use. Reported benefits include the following:

  • Access to information and resources
  • The ability to maintain connections through social media
  • Social capital
  • Normalcy
  • Relaxation and recreation
  • Empowerment and independence
  • Identity formation

Regarding the benefit of supporting connections, youth said technology helps them find and maintain relationships with family members, make and sustain friendships and romantic relationships, support offline relationships, and improve relationships with formal supports.

When discussing the risks of ICTs, youth mentioned the following:

  • Sexual exploitation and dating violence
  • Cyberbullying and harassment
  • Challenges navigating relationships online
  • Distraction caused by ICTs
  • Risk of being monitored by agency staff through ICTs

When discussing ways to mitigate these risks, youth in care suggested using privacy settings, only befriending people they know, and seeking help from adults.

The review discusses these findings and concludes that youth voice regarding ICTs is mostly positive, which is counter to risk-focused narratives in child welfare discourse. In addition, the youth interviewed both recognized risks and presented strategies for mitigating them. To help stakeholders consider potential positive interventions related to ICT use, the study explores ICTs in relation to the five “Cs” of positive youth development: competence, caring, connection, character, and confidence.

The literature review concludes with a call for stronger research-based policies in child welfare settings that outline youth rights related to ICTs.

For more information, read the full article, “A Systematic Review of Internet Communication Technology Use by Youth in Foster Care.”