Financial Capability in a Life Skills Program: Foster Kids Transitioning out of Foster Care

Ready by 21 foster care financial capability programThe Issue: How to better prepare foster kids transitioning out of the foster care system; this includes financial capability , among other life skills modules.

Who: Meghann Shutt, program manager for financial security at Baltimore CASH Campaign. The organization received a grant to participate in Maryland’s Ready by 21 program for foster kids.

What: Geared for foster youth ageing out of the foster care system, Ready by 21 teaches life skills for independent living. Each year, the two-week program teaches five groups of 20 foster kids. Most are 17-19 years old. The effort involves the Governor’s Office for Children, Department of Human Resources, Department of Juvenile Services, Department of Education and the Workforce Investment Board. A program goal is for all youth to be financially literate. Financial education classes dovetail with students’ choice of: pursuing an associate’s and bachelor’s degree; enrolling in job training programs; or direct job placement. Students receive a stipend as part of the life skills program.

How:

  • The financial education component of Ready by 21 is three 90-minute classes: Pump Up Your Piggybank, You Can Bank On It, and Rock Your Credit Score.
  • The first financial class starts with an introduction and a pre-test on financial knowledge. It then moves to a financial habits and values module.
    • Students do a word association exercise using money, wealth, debt, etc.
    • They then do the Money Habitudes card sorting activity. This leads to a group discussion about where money personalities come from and how one’s Money Habitudes mix might help or hurt one’s financial future. There is also discussion about why knowing your own unique money personality type matters.
    • Students then talk about SMART goal setting.
    • The class concludes by talking about building wealth, doing a budget and setting goals.
    • Homework is to track spending for 30 days and relate it to the budget, money personality and goals.
  • Each student has his or her own deck of Money Habitudes cards. Rather than enforcing silence, students can talk and laugh.
  • Shutt allows about 30 minutes to sort the cards – a bit longer than other groups that might be faster readers. Students then read the interpretation cards to get a sense of their money personality. They learn how their spending and saving tendencies affect their lives.
    • So what do you think?
    • Is anyone comfortable sharing the cards you got?
    • Do you think the cards describe you?
    • Did any of the statements really sound like you?
    • Do you see how your different Money Habitudes tendencies work together or work against each other?
  • It may take a moment for people to open up. “I don’t jump in to fill the silence after asking for people to share. A mistake a lot of facilitators make is they want to fill the silence too quickly,” Shutt says. “It’s so surprising how much people really love to share.”
  • Students keep their Money Habitudes results in mind when tackling issues like budgets and banking and credit in the next classes.
  • Other activities used in the context of doing Money Habitudes may be:
    • A discussion about sharing “your first money memory.”
    • Two teams each get big pieces of paper to brainstorm. One group generates ideas to increase their income; the other group brainstorms ideas to save money. “If the ideas are coming from the people themselves, they’re going to be ideas that make a lot more sense than if they’re ideas coming from me,” says Shutt.

 Why:

  • “The cards send a signal that this isn’t your regular high school class. It’s going to be fun, they’re going to participate and learn about themselves,” says Shutt.
  • “Because we don’t have a way to talk about money and think about money because it’s so taboo, that’s where the cards really come in. The cards really help people along the path of becoming the expert in their own lives. They’re saying, ‘Maybe I don’t really know how I am with money because no one’s ever asked me. Or I’ve never talked about it with anybody. Or I just don’t have a structure for thinking about it.’ The cards are a really nice jumping off point because they’re a way people can have more information about who they are and how they act with money. Then, when they’re hearing that information for the next three workshops, they have a way of saying, for example, ‘Oh, maybe a savings bond would be good for me because I know I’m more of a spontaneous spender.'”
  • “Kids have so little choice over what’s going on in their lives. It’s fun to say, ‘You’re the expert on you. So we’re going to honor that and you can sort these cards however it makes sense for you. And you can have more information about yourself so when we give you this information, you’re going to know which of these choices is going to be best for you.’ Nobody likes to be told what to do. The cards make people more open and receptive.”
  • “I have them do the card sort and they get excited about it. The cards are so fun and everybody loves hearing about themselves. One girl said, ‘Oh, do these cards know who I am?!’ People will also ask if they can keep them. I think it just immediately warms them to what’s coming next.”
  • “I use the cards as a way to encourage the students to think critically about which option will work for them, acknowledging that not every strategy is right for everybody. We use the cards as a way to open the window so people can see better who they are and how they act with money so that when they’re choosing strategies and tools for reaching whatever their financial goals are, they’re doing it with a mindset of, ‘Well, let me be real with myself about what’s going to work for me and what won’t.'”
  • “Education alone doesn’t get people to change their behaviors. Education plus the behavioral piece and engaging people around their behaviors and how they incorporate this new information into changes, that’s really where I think there’s a possibility for change.”

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