Foster Parents… Don’t Forget Finance 101
All this recent stress about money got me thinking. My knowledge and skills regarding money, credit, bills, taxes, spending, bank accounts, …. SUCK…. and this is a failure of the foster care system. I aged-out of foster care at 18, in high-school, and not in an ILP.
Before you tell me “all foster kids are required to take life skills” — I say bullshit and READ THIS from 2010. This is one state, but 67% of the oldest foster children HAD NOT completed a Life Skills course that would help them to live independently and qualify for financial assistance. The majority of youth said they had never completed a life-skills program, which provides instruction in financial management, cooking, housekeeping and other living skills. Representatives of NJ stated that there were not enough programs…”
Well that is just fabulous…. don’t you think? Kick kids out with no home, no jobs, and no skills. Guess what happens to them?
As this non-profit leader says HERE: “We go from ‘you’re in foster care, where you may handle $10 a month’ to ‘you’re responsible for everything’”
I am not going to spend the rest of this blog giving you statistics… you can find them yourself on the web. I am going to spend the rest of this blog giving you ideas how to help and examples from my life.
The system can’t seem to get it right, so foster parents, IT IS UP TO YOU!
Finance 101 – Things to focus on with foster children…
I. BANK ACCOUNTS
I never had a bank account in foster care. Where I lived, anyone under 18 had to have a co-signer. Some states allow foster youth to open a bank account themselves at age 16-17 if they take a financial awareness class and then get a Court Order allowing them to open an account. What a pain in the ass!
All foster youth are supposed to get an allowance. Many bad foster parents do not abide by this rule and they pocket the money for their greedy selves. The allowance is the RIGHT of the foster child. In some homes I never got an allowance and in other homes I was given the allowance (like $5-$20 per month), but I spent it on stuff; mostly on self-soothing things like food, cigarettes, a nickel or dime bag of weed, dr. pepper, candy… In fact I never remember my “money” being monitored.
** If you have an older child in your home, open a bank account with them and suggest that they put in $1-5 per month in it. If the child leaves your home for another home, make sure you take them to get the money out. Be honest and show the child that it is their money. If the child ages-out of your home, the bank account will be there to do with as they wish (with alittle money!). Also —
1) It gives your foster child an idea how bank accounts work. When I went to get my first bank account, I was confused. I still am. I had/have no idea what interest rate is or how it is calculated. I had no idea that some banks charge money to open an account and some are free. I had no idea that some banks had charges for some things and other banks did not.
2) It gives your foster child a chance to practice balancing a budget and keeping track of expenses. I still can’t do this successfully…
When my dog Moonlight was really sick and needed lots of vet care, I signed up for a card call “Care Credit.” It was my life-savor, because I did not have the money to pay for her treatment. The card claimed that if I pay the expenses by the due date (usually 6 months – 1 year), I would have to pay NO INTEREST. Honestly, at the time, I did not even care, because I needed the card …but the truth is, I did not understand it. Every month I have been paying the “minimum” that was required. I thought that “minimum” meant that it would pay off my bills by the due date. Well, 6 months after the first time I used it, I got a letter telling me I owed alot of money or all the interest would be added to my balance. WHAT? I was paying every month?
What I did not understand or realize was that the “minimum” really meant nothing. I needed to be paying more than the “minimum” to pay my bills by the due date. I still don’t know what the “minimum” really means. I still don’t understand the card or how it works. I have NO CLUE what I am paying… All I know is that I went from NO interest to 24.99%, even though I paid the “minimum.”
Talk to your foster children about credit cards. How dangerous they are and how almost dishonest they are because they hide behind pages of information that is written so small, no-body can read it and people like me, can’t understand it. Explain interest! How it can take forever to pay off high-interest debt and how interest is calculated (I still need to learn that). When foster youth age-out, they are going to have enough problems, help prevent them from drowning in debt too.
III. PAYING BILLS
Paying bills is part of life, but if you are not familiar with it, it can be overwhelming. FP, when you pay your bills, let your foster children watch and discuss which ones are monthly, which ones are 2 times a year, etc. Honestly, I still mess up alot. I forget to pay them, like my phone bill. I don’t use the phone that much, so it is not something that is always on my mind. When they are all due on different dates, sometimes I forget ….and then fuck, one is late and I owe more.
Dr. Val recently came up with a really good tool to help me and I am going to pass it on to you to share with your foster children. She gave me a calendar with pictures of the ocean, to hang where I am most likely going to drop my mail or open it. She choose oceans because she said since I liked oceans, I would look at the calendar. Smart Dr. Val! I have a tendency to drop my mail on the counter in the kitchen by the frig and forget about it. So I hung the calendar on the frig. When I open the mail, I am supposed to mark that day on the calendar and then with a star or some other symbol, mark the due date on the calendar. She even gave me some different color pens, so that I can choose a color for each bill.
It may seem idiotic to many of you, but with all the chaos in my life and not being financially savvy, tools like this help.
IV. SERVICES AVAILABLE
Foster kids that age-out are deserving of and are eligible for some services. I don’t know all of them because I personally don’t wish to be “indebted to the system” anymore. Many foster youth feel like I do, but when predictiments happen, it is important that young adults are aware of where they can get help.
Make sure your foster child knows about housing services, food services, job services, WIC, legal services, and even money for education. Aged-out kids tend to get in situations where help is needed; starving, pregnant, injured, homeless, etc. Knowing about the services gives them a place to start. For example, JobCorps helps kids get a GED and a job. Maybe I could have gone to JobCorps instead of being homelessness. Other places can help with college or community college. There are special scholarships and funds for foster kids. If your worker doesn’t mention them, ask your school counselor. Someone will know something.
I know that you are probably overwhelmed with your current foster child’s needs; taking them to therapy, taking them to court dates, behavioral issues, school issues, medical issues, yadda, yadda, yadda…. but being a “parent” means making sure your kids have the skills and knowledge to survive as adults. Knowledge and understanding about money is part of navigating adulthood successfully.
When I was growing up, no-one cared about helping me navigate through the financial waters, so I have been drowning. I simply have very little understanding of financial issues. Because of that, I am fucked and have very little idea of how to fix it..