Fostering Connections to Financial Literacy

By Anna Maier

When it comes to successfully implementing legislation, the devil is often in the details. That is why a Bay Area advocacy group is making sure that foster youth get the support entitled to them by the California Fostering Connections to Success Act (AB12.)

AB12, which was implemented in 2012, extends foster care services from age 18 to age 21, providing monthly payments of $800 to young people who meet the eligibility requirements. However, as Kate Teague, the Bay Area Regional Coordinator for California Youth Connection (CYC) said, “We need to make sure the spirit as well as the letter of the law is carried out. AB12 is intended to be a period of transition rather than just an extension of foster care payments.”

California Youth Connection, an advocacy group made up of current and former foster youth, recently conducted a focus group and interviews with young adult youth living in the East Bay to find out what services were lacking. The study found that money was a problem. Some youth said they did not receive enough money for living expenses and that they received late payments.

“As foster youth, we are constantly in flux with our living arrangements and our emotional stability, and we don’t always have that wisdom that a conventional family household would probably have about finances, how to write a check, saving versus checking accounts and loans,” said Kevin Williams, a former foster youth and adult supporter of the Alameda County CYC chapter.

As the first group of young adults reach age 21 and are exited out of extended foster care benefits, one area of need that has emerged is financial literacy training. CYC advocates are working to connect social workers and foster youth with age-appropriate financial literacy training materials, and are also exploring the possibility of pushing for the addition of a financial literacy component to AB 12 eligibility requirements.

Foster youth typically lack family financial support, don’t have savings, and have less exposure to healthy financial behaviors from the adults in their lives, according to a 2014 Urban Institute issue brief by Sara Edelstein and Christopher Lowenstein. Their research reaffirms the findings of the CYC chapter.

Members of the Alameda County CYC chapter initially planned to create their own financial literacy curriculum, but quickly realized that there is a wealth of youth-oriented programming already available.

Miriam Yarde, one of the CYC members leading this work, is currently vetting local programs. Yarde said that the chapter wants to train foster youth in the “psychology behind the spending,” so that they can escape the temptation of purchasing name brand items and make financial choices that will support their long-term goals.

Ultimately, chapter members will compile a list of vetted financial literacy training options to share with Alameda County Social Services Agency officials, social workers and foster youth enrolled in AB12. Youth must currently attend school, have a job, participate in vocational training or have a verifiable medical condition that limits the ability to work or attend school in order to receive monthly payments.

However, it is unclear whether adding the additional eligibility requirement of financial literacy training would be allowable under the current law.

Regardless of what advocacy tactic the Alameda County CYC chapter ultimately settles on, the chapter members hope that teaching AB12 participants how to manage their monthly payments will set them on the road to financial stability in the long run.

“You can’t expect anyone to grow if you haven’t taught them,” Williams said. “When it comes to AB12, just giving money won’t fix anything.”

Anna Maier is a graduate student of public policy at the U.C. Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. She wrote this story while enrolled in the Goldman School’s Journalism for Social Change class.

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