Shoebox of Money
One of the central themes of conversations among social workers is recognizing one’s privilege. I quickly realized my privilege on June 16th as the panelists for the discussion on financial literacy for foster youth, organized by the Senate Caucuses on Foster Youth and Financial and Economic Literacy, began to tell their stories. While one young woman told of the shoebox her foster mother gave her to secure her savings, I thought of the shoebox I had in my closet. Hers was filled with the money from her afterschool job, and mine is filled with 24 years of birthday, Christmas, and graduation cards long separated from the checks once inside, which had quickly been deposited in a bank account to be safe and secure and grow interest. The cards tell of support and advice – to keep up the good work and save the money to buy something special. This young woman did not receive this financial support and advice from trusted adults throughout her life. When she turned 18 and automatically became an independent adult, she also had to independently manage her finances.
Getting a trusted adult to co-sign a rental lease or a credit card application are all privileges that I, and many young adults, regularly take for granted – privileges that the young woman on the panel did not have. A 21-year-old member of the audience explained her emancipation: she grossly misunderstood the rules of credit and damaged her score, and wished that she could be under the support of the foster care system until she was 25, just like many of the ‘regular’ 25 year olds who are still dependent and living with their parents. In fact, a Pew Research study found that in 2012, 36% of Millennials aged 18-31 were living at home with their parents, while in the same year more than 23,000 18-year-olds aged out of the foster care system and were forced to become entirely independent on their birthday.
Fortunately, there are trusting adults working to provide support and advice by offering financial literacy classes. The young woman on the panel joined such a course offered by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Through their Opportunity Passport program, she was provided a small stipend to be deposited not in a shoebox, but into an Individual Development Account where the funds were matched to assist in pursuing a degree, obtaining a job, securing housing, or purchasing a vehicle – definitely saving to use for something special.
Providing support and advice should not be limited to a shoebox. Young adults need to be provided with the opportunity to learn about finances and build assets. As Senator Grassley, co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth, said in his remarks at the event, we must go beyond the narrow definition of child welfare as pertaining to physical safety alone. Youth in the foster care system face many challenges – providing them with a few of the resources I take for granted would help to overcome serious obstacles to financial security.