"Livewire is wonderful because you have 24 hour a day, immediate connection with a community of people feeling exactly the same way."
Being a teenager can be hard, and even tougher if you're different, but an Australian organization hopes to ease these growing pains through an online social network dedicated to youth with illnesses or disabilities.
Livewire, which was launched this week, is being touted by the media as a "Facebook for sick kids" and is the first social network website of its kind in Australia.
Livewire provides a safe and fun online community where members can share experiences, he said. Like MySpace or Facebook, users can play games, access blogs and enter chatrooms.
The Hon. Senator Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, launched Livewire, a new online community which is the first of its kind in Australia, to help improve the emotional and social wellbeing of children and young people aged over 10 and under 21, living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability.
A wholly owned subsidiary of the Starlight Children's Foundation, and co-funded by the Australian Government's Clever Networks program, Livewire is designed to provide a free, safe and supportive online community for children and young people to hang out, connect, share experiences, creatively express themselves and know that they are not alone in their situation.
An estimated 450,000 young Australians aged between 10 and 21 are currently living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability. These conditions can profoundly impact their everyday lives, leading to frequent absences from school, sport and other social activities. The internet provides an innovative way to reach and connect these young people through a supportive online community.
"Connecting and supporting young people with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability through a safe online community has been a vision of the Starlight team for many years," said Jill Weekes, CEO of the Starlight Children's Foundation. "Livewire helps to distract that young person from their pain, helps them better understand their illness and connects young people facing similar challenges so that no one feels alone."
Unlike other social networks, Livewire is a secure, moderated community tailored to the needs of its private members.
"By combining the latest in online and mobile technologies with a safe and secure approach, we are developing a great online community for young people who are also dealing with a disability, chronic condition or serious illness," said Omar Khalifa, Managing Director of Livewire. "With video, music and games, Livewire is a fun place to check out. However, it's the young people who create blogs, chat and interact that will shape Livewire, keep it relevant and a make it a really great place to hang out."
The Hon. Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, said "The Livewire online community is a great example of broadband and digital technology assisting the support and well-being of people whose lives have been disrupted by chronic illness or disability. Livewire helps young people to stay in touch with those they love and to connect to gain support from others who may be sharing a similar situation."
Livewire aims to have a significant impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of its members, to help relieve stress and anxiety, alleviate boredom and to help empower them to develop new life skills and make new friends.
Prominent child and adolescent psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg commented, "Too often, it goes unrecognized that young people with chronic illness or disability can be affected by anxiety disorders, mood disorders, self harm and even suicidal tendencies, and that these go hand in hand with their situation.
"Livewire is wonderful because you have 24 hour a day, immediate connection with a community of people feeling exactly the same way. This can instantly reduce their sense of isolation and put them in touch with someone who understands," he concluded.
Livewire complies with strict safety measures to ensure the safety and security of its members. Each member's parent or guardian is contacted personally to verify their identity before joining the community. What's more, chat hosts trained by the Australian Federal Police are present seven days a week to moderate discussions.
The program is made possible by an investment of $7.2 million from the Australian Government's Clever Networks program, and support from its launch partners. This funding has enabled Livewire to develop a long lasting, sustainable program that will support, inspire and encourage its members.
Livewire aims to connect 20,000 young people, siblings and parents by the end of 2009, and will work with and through other Not For Profit organizations, such as The Spastic Center and Diabetes Australia to provide access to Livewire to its eligible members.
The next phase of Livewire will be the launch of Livewire Mobile which will enable young Australians to access the site and its community via their mobile phone. Livewire on Wheels, a bedside access program, has already rolled out at Canberra Hospital and The Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick. Throughout 2009, the program will aim to target an additional seven hospitals right throughout Australia, including The Children's Hospital at Westmead, John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Perth, Mater Hospital in Brisbane, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, and Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.
This will be followed by the creation of dedicated Livewire sites for both parents and siblings of young people with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability, enabling them to share experiences with others who understand what they are going through, and a research program which examines the therapeutic benefits of Livewire services and the impacts of Internet use on members' social and emotional well-being.
Things to do on LiveWire:
Check out the latest games
Enter competitions and win awesome prizes
Keep up with the latest news, reviews and interviews
Hang out in chat rooms and meet people your age from all over Australia
Create a blog about yourself or stuff you are interested in.
Murdoch University to Test Livewire Benefits
The benefit of Livewire.org.au, an online disability community for young people living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability, will be the subject of research conducted by Perth's Murdoch University.
Dr Amanda Third and Dr Ingrid Richardson of the University's Center for Everyday Life (CEL) will lead the research. Using a range of ethnographic techniques the CEL research aims to identify the key factors shaping young people's online engagement with the Lirewire program, how this compares with other 'real world' socializing experiences, and how well Livewire overcomes their physical and environmental difficulties.
Livewire was developed based on evidence that long hospital stays and recovering at home can profoundly affect the everyday lives of young people living with serious illness or disability by increasing their risk of social isolation and lower peer acceptance. The mix of youth culture content, games and a full range of community and social tools is considered to be a ground-breaking solution to this problem.
The outcomes of the research will help to shape Livewire in the future. Cinnamon Pollard, Partnerships and Marketing Director, Livewire.org.au is enthusiastic about the research : "We have purposefully built Livewire to help this group of young people so it's important for us to independently assess whether it meets their needs and achieves the proposed outcomes. The research may also provide additional insights as to how to improve Livewire."
"This research will check to see if we are in fact on track to keeping young people with serious illness and disability connected," she added.
Commenced in February 2009, the study will engage Livewire members from all over Australia. Research findings are expected to be released in November 2009.
Any young Australian aged over 10 and under 21, who is currently living with a serious illness, chronic health condition or disability who wishes to join Livewire or find out more information should visit www.livewire.org.au or contact firstname.lastname@example.org