One of the biggest life milestones is a young person’s first job. Many young people often look forward to earning their own money to do with what they wish. For kids from typical families, this can mean the independence of being able to buy their own clothes, go
to the movies, or even to save for their first car.
Foster kids see having their own money as having some degree of control of their lives—lives in which others have forcibly taken their control and along with it, their dignity. Their own money allows kids to buy food, join friends at the fast food place or the movies, and thus allows them to fit in, sometimes for the first time. Money can translate into transportation, like a bus ticket to see a relative or friend or back to familiar surroundings. Money can be used to purchase a prepaid phone, which gives some sense of safety and connectedness. Without their own phone, they’re at the mercy of caregivers about when they may call their social worker, their Mom, or a friend. Having the ability to call someone when they feel they’re being treated unfairly or when they’re feeling disappointed, angry, frustrated, or conversely when they have something good to share, gives kids a feeling of connection they desperately need.
The challenge is that there aren’t many jobs available to young people. And fewer still to foster kids who may not live within walking distance of available jobs or have transportation to get to and from work. Foster kids lack the kinds of relational connections that lead to jobs. For example, many kids have extended family members who know about employers hiring entry level employees. Family members, neighbors, and friends who are connected in the workplace, in churches, in neighborhoods, and in community service organizations can make recommendations for the young people within their influence. Sadly, foster kids don’t often have those kinds of connections.
As the foster kids see bio kids in the family get jobs, kids in school get jobs, and neighbor kids get jobs, and see themselves still stuck in a place where others control what and when they can eat, when they are supposed to sleep, what they can wear, and where they can go, what they are supposed to do and when they’re supposed to do it, it isn’t difficult to see why the lure of a trafficker telling about making money doing what was done to them for nothing can be an option to consider.