The cashier rang up my groceries. I only had $17.67 on my debit card. It didn’t matter. I was hungry. With trepidation, I put in my PIN and froze, hoping I didn’t hear the cashier say “declined.” She did not! I grabbed my groceries, ran quickly out of the store, sat in the rain and peeled an orange.
Even though I received foster care assistance checks until I was 21, for me, simple mathematics just did not add up. I live in California. Things are expensive.
After high school, I enrolled in the UCLA Extension program. I earned a certificate in media studies. Since I was not a student with a “degree,” I did not qualify for housing. So I lived off-campus in shared housing. I shared a 14-bedroom house with 30 girls. Even though I chose a quadruple room, the least expensive room in the house, my rent was still high. I paid $900 a month for rent. It was hard. It caused a lot of anxiety. I felt different from the other residents. All the other girls were able to pay their rent on time. I struggled. I did not want to leave because I loved the housing and loved the girls that lived there. It was a fun place, but it was also a place that was counterproductive to learning and growing. I had a part-time job and used my foster care assistance check to pay my rent.
At 21, things got worse. My foster care assistance checks stopped. I was drowning. By that time, rent was more than $1,000. I had a full-time job. But it was still a struggle to pay rent every month. There’s a silver lining: months later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As a result, everyone had to move out of the house. I found a better housing situation with affordable rent. I am extremely grateful and blessed.
I learned a painful lesson. Even if one does not attend traditional college, there are other options available for former foster youth. I did not know this. No one told me. But, as young adults, we can’t expect everyone to always find resources for us. It is our responsibility to advocate for ourselves, make calls, find help, demand help, and allow those in a position to help us to intervene.
Another financial challenge that I faced was funding my small business. A lot of people do not realize that foster kids have dreams, goals and aspirations. Many of us work hard and strive to be successful. I am the founder of two organizations. I worked incredibly hard, but, at the same time, I helped others. Manifesting my dreams was important to me, even as a teenager. But I was not business-savvy. I knew little about how to become an official registered business. I tried to do mental mathematics fast and accurately. I did not succeed.
The foster care system is overwhelmed. Social workers have high caseloads and are overworked. They can’t teach us everything we need to know. I suggest to every foster child that is aging out of the system to take as many free classes as you can. Learn all that you can. YouTube also has classes on just about every subject.
Imagine this scenario: You are standing in line at a convenience store. The person in front of you pays for their snacks and walks out the store. It’s your turn. Do you pay or do you tell the cashier you are a former foster child? My point is, no one is going to treat you special just because you previously lived in foster care. Life is tough for everyone. Everyone is trying to make it. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has problems.
There is help available to former foster youth. There are times we might need help with food, housing or finding a job. Accept the help if you need it. I did. Just remember, eventually, there will be a time when you need help and no help is available. You might be put on a “waiting list.” The food pantry might give you food that you do not like. Sometimes, agencies are not going to give you money when you need it.
The greatest gift we can give ourselves is developing a strong work ethic. Find a job. Keep a job. Open your own business. Don’t depend on anyone to pay your bills. Work. Keep your credit score up. Never stop learning. Save some money.