One thing that I have learned as an adult is that financial stability is imperative to success in all areas of a person’s life. It has the potential to affect everything from your emotional well being to your marriage and interpersonal relationships. It now even has the ability to affect whether you can a job or not! Youth and young adults have a hard time understanding the role of financial literacy and stability in every day life in general; however, youth in and from foster care are placed at a larger disadvantage because they are part of a system (foster care) that has historically found it difficult to teach youth about financial literacy the way they would learn it in a family setting.
Financial Literacy should not be limited to a classroom setting but requires the buy in from foster parents and social workers alike to ensure that youth in care are learning the ins and outs of personal finances naturally. Unfortunately, it is the case that many of the professionals and families these youth experience have a hard time understanding finances themselves as adults and are not necessarily trained on how to teach youth in care, naturally, about the importance of understanding their finances.
Bills are paid for youth in care without their involvement. Youth don’t understand the concept of paying bills or balancing a check book as these are practices they are not consistently encouraged to participate in -or at least not until they are at the doorstep of “aging-out” which by then it is too late and unrealistic to expect them to learn all they need to know to positively develop their financial habits in preparing for independence.
Although I was extremely aware of the importance of being able to pay my bills on time and keeping a budget, these are not behaviors I learned from foster care; they were habits I learned from watching my grandmother paying her bills every month. At the beginning of each month she would lay all of her bill statements on the bed and place the money that she was to pay for each bill on top of it. She would show me her check registers and take me grocery shopping with her or send me to the grocery store alone with a list and a set amount of money and I was expected to get what she needed with what I was given. In hindsight, I am grateful that I was exposed to this type of “natural” learning before I entered foster care, as I’m afraid I may not have truly grasped these concepts in a classroom or “test-taking” setting as many youth in care are expected to do.
What I did not learn from my family before coming into foster care nor during my time in foster care were the dangers of credit cards when not used properly. I was so used to the major bills/financial obligations being taken care of by my foster care agency that when I aged-out, I found myself relying too heavily on credit cards and was in debt before I realized it happened.
Also for many young people aging out of foster care, they leave without a savings account or without enough in savings to cover any unexpected bills that they may encounter. They never have the opportunity to save money after leaving care because they find themselves playing catch up, as they have to pay for all costs associated with being an adult without properly being prepared for adulthood.
What I have come to understand as a professional working in foster care is that if the foster care system and all the professionals within it are expecting foster youth to take financial literacy and stability seriously, THEY first must take it seriously. Financial Literacy does not begin at the age of 16 or even 17 and it is not taught in a classroom setting; it is taught from the time the child is able to speak through natural interaction and observing behaviors. If foster families, group home staff and social workers are not trained on how to teach and model healthy financial behavior, the youth in their care will not.
To my youth in and young adults from foster care I say: take your financial health as seriously as your physical and emotional health. If you are not financially healthy it will negatively manifest in all other areas of your life. If you need help understanding a bill or want to learn how to save, make sure you’re attending a financial literacy workshop/training at every opportunity. Some agencies are consistent in offering Life Skills Workshops and when they do ATTEND them, as they may be your only preparation for the REAL WORLD. There are community organizations and banks that offer Financial Literacy Workshops/Advising for FREE. Reach out to them.
Just because your parents struggled through life financially, does not mean you have to repeat the cycle. Just because you may have grown up with little to nothing, does not mean you have to transition into adulthood and continue through your life with nothing. The world is bigger than your block, your neighborhood, your city and it is beautiful. Don’t feel you have to underachieve because that is what many people expect from you. Understand clearly that it will be up to YOU to take responsibility for your spending habits (and all of your habits for that matter). Remember that when you leave foster care, you are not entitled to any special treatment from ANYONE and you will NOT get it. Whether you’re aging out of the foster care system or you have aged-out years ago, if you are not financially healthy, it is time to make better decisions. Break FREE of what others have told you, you deserve. Ignore and remove those people from your life who feel you need to “look like” a foster youth, to be pitied and to be disregarded. Do not feel guilty for wanting to be financially secure and don’t apologize for taking the steps to do so.
Your financial freedom starts NOW. On your terms. With YOU at the helm. Fly Free…