I had to find my own path while going to college. The transition to adulthood wasn’t easy. Yet, there was hope. Despite commuting two and a half hours from home and taking loads of medications during my first year at UC San Diego, I made it through.
I had a hard time managing my budget during my freshman year of college. I would go to Panda Express every day and thoroughly enjoyed eating out. Because I kept using my finances in this way, I was encouraged by my social worker to let my foster parents manage my finances while I just focused on school. I was in extended foster care at the time and still had a year left to go.
By the time I reached my sophomore year of college, I moved on campus. My foster parents took advantage of me financially with the extended foster care funds and committed fraud by keeping those checks every month while I was away at school. It was close to $10,000 in stolen funds. They were sentenced to three years of probation with special visitations from the investigators. But, they didn’t lose their license nor did they have to pay the money back. I got disconnected from them and most of the adopted siblings in the home while I was subsequently hospitalized and struggling with school. I was also academically disqualified because I was not excelling academically.
This was an extremely frustrating time for me. The only foster family I had known had kicked me to the curb. I was disillusioned, disheartened and afraid. This situation helped me to reflect on the things that the foster care system can improve on when it comes to financial hardships and academic success for foster youth.
There is a lack of accountability of foster parents being financially responsible for their youth. I had even brought up this lack of accountability and financial concern with a high-ranking individual in the Department of Child Welfare Services. They, unfortunately, gave some excuse about how that’s not their department. If the people in the system would actually hold foster parents accountable and rightfully prosecute them when they are doing wrong, that would be immensely helpful. Also, there needs to be financial restitution for the youth when they are older. It’s not enough to just have the youth learn to do a credit check and call it a day. There needs to be a holistic approach to justice when foster youth are taken advantage of financially.
We need more nonprofits creating opportunities for transitional-age youth to take financial literacy classes. It’s very important that these classes are fun, engaging and heavily incentivized with food, matched savings opportunities, and a hub of resources for the youth. There are organizations that I have been a part of that actively do this and fill in the gaps when the county won’t be able to.
In higher education, empathy and open-mindedness are vital in the network of academic support that foster youth get. That means that, if a youth is getting academically disqualified, the academic counselor needs to take into account mental health issues that make the youth struggle in different ways. We need these academic counselors to be trauma-informed so that they are equipped to support foster youth. I was fortunate enough to have a really understanding academic counselor who considered that I was hospitalized due to my mental health. I had been hospitalized six times at that point.
On a particular day at the hospital, an allegory formed in my mind that provided me with healing and comfort. It was a re-telling of a story about the complexities of people, like my foster parents, who had tried so hard and had shortcomings in their life which created pitfalls in mine. It was allowing me to rest in the hammock of forgiveness, despite how painful the process was. It was love that came through the likes of strangers, patients, doctors, nurses, and visitors at this hospital. I was learning to love myself, so that I could, in turn, better love others and receive love from others, too.
I was deep within the stillness of the moment, but, this time, I was finding the strength to have hope for myself and for my health. I knew, from that moment on, I would be intentional about being present. I would reconnect with my biological family. I would go back to school, change my major and graduate. I would forgive my foster parents, the only ones I had known as my family. I would carry a relationship with friends who cared about me. I would stay connected to the church that I considered my spiritual family. Most importantly, I would love the best way I knew how until I could learn to love in a greater capacity in each season God carries me through. I would learn that there is hope, despite the hardships I had faced.