Bridging the digital divide with Byte Night

Action for Children's IT director explains how the IT industry's Byte Night charity sleep-out is helping the charity's work

As director of information services at Action for Children, I oversee technology used by 6,000 staff at 650 services across the UK, stretching from the Outer Hebrides to Guernsey.

As you would expect, this includes dealing with common concerns like servers, security and system updates, but for a charity like Action for Children it also means thinking about how our information services help transform the lives of vulnerable children and young people.

Many of the young people we work with have become disconnected from conventional sources of guidance and support. Some of them have not had the chance to learn how they can use technology to help themselves, even if most of their peers are digital natives. Eleven million people in the UK struggle to get online and they tend to live in the most deprived communities, meaning that it not just older people who are missing out on the opportunities offered by the web.

We have teamed up with Dell to deliver Inspire IT, a project which helps us reach out to young people and families who are digitally excluded. An example of this is the Gael Og service for 11-18 year olds in the Scottish Highlands.

Action for Children workers help young people who have problems with offending, school attendance, drugs and alcohol. Workers use laptops with 3G dongles to help young people access the internet to apply for jobs and courses and can log their progress while on the move. They have also kitted out a camper van so they can run a mobile advice service along with fun activities like street football to engage young people in remote communities.

Improving young people's future

Some of these young people may be at risk of being sent to young offender institutes or they may be trying to settle back into their family home after release. Getting them involved in working out a future improves their chances of achieving it. The alternative could be becoming one the 80,000 young people who experience homelessness every year.

Many of these young people will have had a breakdown in relationships with their family, or have been unable to find and keep suitable accommodation after leaving care. At Action for Children, we aim to help young people to deal with these issues before the threat of homelessness becomes a reality.

Technology alone can’t do this, but ensuring young people have access to the tools they need to find and apply for support, jobs and education is vitally important. On a practical level, technology means that our staff can be fully contactable, even when they are out of the office; and allows us to collect feedback on our work, so that we can check our services are meeting the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families.

Inspire IT is funded by Dell’s participation in Byte Night, Action for Children’s annual sleep out which raises money to fight homelessness. This year we’re aiming for 1,500 sleepers in eight locations around the UK and are hoping to raise £1.3m to support our services for young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Byte Night takes place on 3 October and there is still time to sign up and get fundraising. Not only will you be helping young people to achieve their potential but with hundreds of people taking part, including teams from companies like Dell, IBM, LinkedIn and BT, it is a great opportunity to meet peers from the technology and business worlds. Register now at www.bytenight.org.uk.

Alan Crawford is director of information services Action for Children. If you can’t make a sleep out, you can donate to Alan and his colleagues’ team fundraising page here.

This was last published in September 2014

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