What is the Internet?

The Internet is a vast, worldwide network of linked computers. In recent years, it has come to be identified with the idea of an “information superhighway,” the equivalent in the realm of communications of the network of high speed roads which was created in the U.S. in the years after World War II. It is expected that the information superhighway will affect American society just as profoundly as the interstate highway system did. While the Internet is not yet the communications superhighway that Vice President Gore, among others, has spoken about, it seems to be developing in that direction with astonishing speed.

For respite and crisis service providers, the Internet is an attractive tool which offers access to funders (foundations and corporate grant makers), rapid communications, in the form of e-mail and online discussion groups (and the potential for free, long distance telephone service), and instant access to information from resources that may be located anywhere in the world. On the Internet, Sydney, Australia, is as accessible as Kansas City, Missouri, and Bucharest is as close as Buffalo. Unlike the telephone network, there are no long distance charges on the Internet. In fact, a person may move about from site to site on the Internet and be completely unaware that they are continent hopping in the process.


The Internet began in 1969 as a Department of Defense project to test the idea of connecting computers over long distances and maintaining communications between them under wartime conditions. Although only four computers were linked together initially, by 1972 fifty universities and research facilities involved in military projects were part of what was then called ARPANET. This network, and a number of others which were developed later, were joined together in 1991 as the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET). The ban on business transactions was lifted in 1991, paving the way for the commercialization which has led to the current explosive growth of the net. Today the Internet is no longer a government project. In over forty countries around the world, similar networks are now linked together in the Internet.

The recent upsurge in Internet use has come about because of what is called the World Wide Web. Originally, networked computers exchanged data in the form of numbers, text, or program code. The World Wide Web provides a graphical interface for the exchange of data on the Internet, similar to the way Microsoft Windows adds a graphical interface to DOS on the personal computer. The Web brings the familiar “point and click” personal computing metaphor to the Internet, shielding the user from the complexities of the underlying network structure. Although the older ways of exchanging data over the network remain in use (file transfer protocols and directories of files such as FTP, WAIS, Archie, and Veronica) the vast majority of new Internet users are accessing the network through the Web.

Available Resources

Instant AccThere is so much information available over the Internet that whatever you are looking for is probably available, and more is being added every day. Respite and crisis providers looking for information should check the following sources first:

ARCH National Resource Center for Respite and Crisis Care Services
www.archrespite.org . Many ARCH Factsheets can be downloaded free of charge from this site. A complete list of ARCH’s printed and video products is available with prices and ordering information. ARCH also intends to post other respite news on its site.

National Respite Locator Service: www.respitelocator.org . Instant access to contact information for 1,400 programs, in all fifty states and Puerto Rico. Programs are listed alphabetically by state and city. A great resource for parents and professionals alike.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: www.os.dhhs.gov. This site has news, public affairs, consumer, and policy information relating to DHHS. Consumer information on numerous topics including AIDS, child abuse, smoking, etc. Also, numerous links to government databases of information on HHS-related topics.

AskERIC: http://ericir.syr.edu ERIC is a federally-funded national information system that provides, through its sixteen subject-specific clearinghouses, associated adjunct clearinghouses, and support components, a variety of services and products on a broad range of education-related issues. It has three major components: AskERIC Q&A Service; AskERIC Virtual Library; and AskERIC R&D.

HandsNet: www.handsnet.org. HandsNet is a national, nonprofit organization that promotes information sharing, cross-sector collaboration and advocacy among individuals and organizations working on a broad range of public interest issues. The site has selections of “action alerts,” a “weekly digest” of news, “Welfare Watch,” and links to websites of HandsNet members.

Child Welfare League of America: www.handsnet.org/cwla/ .This site has a publications list, upcoming conferences and trainings, public policy and advocacy initiatives, and information about consultation services, plus a list of links to member agencies.

National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information: www.calib.com/nccanch/
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NCCAN Clearinghouse), a national resource for professionals seeking information on the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The site has a listing of new products and initiatives, an online catalog of publications, information on statistics, child welfare, child abuse and neglect prevention, and state statutes, as well as a conference calendar.

Children’s Defense Fund: http://www.tmn.com/cdf/. This site has a handy list of facts and figures about children’s issues, a list of publications, updates and alerts about legislation. The CDF is a private non-profit which doesn’t accept government funds, and which pays particular attention to the needs of poor, minority, and disabled children.

Family Resource Information, Education, and Network Development Services: www.familysupportamerica.org/friends/ . FRIENDS offers a range of services designed to assist states, Tribal organizations, and local programs throughout the United States in the development of family resource programs and networks. The site offers a conference calendar, an extensive booklist, and numerous family support fact sheets which can be downloaded.

Thomas: Legislative Information on the Internet: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.html
The place to go to find all the bills before congress, the current activities of both House and Senate, historical documents, information on committees, and the text of the Congressional Record. It features handy summaries of bills as well as their complete texts.

Federal Register: http://www.gpo.ucop.edu/ . The text of the Federal Register is available from the University of California’s GPO Gate, which is designed to help citizens easily access the laws, regulations, reports, data, and other information provided through the Government Printing Office’s Access system. In addition, the catalogues of most university and large public libraries are available on line, as well as the offerings of many bookstores and commercial publishers.

About the Author: Tom Cabarga, M.A., is an Administrative Assistant/Computer Specialist for ARCH National Resource Center. He is a web site designer and has worked in the non-profit sector for fifteen years.

ARCH Factsheet Number 46, September, 1996

This factsheet was produced by the ARCH National Resource Center for Respite and Crisis Care Services funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, Cooperative Agreement No. 90-CN-0178 under contract with the North Carolina Department of Human Resources, Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities/ Substance Abuse Services, Child and Family Services Branch of Mental Health Services, Raleigh, North Carolina. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the funders, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This information is in the public domain. Readers are encouraged to copy and share it, but please credit the ARCH National Resource Center.