An Innovative Budgeting Approach for Young People in care.
Sowing the Seeds of Independence early in Fostering
The author, John Barnes, is the Commercial Director at Synergy Fostering. With over 20 years experience of managing people and organisations, John has learned a few things about finance, but it’s not always been like that.
In this article John interviews one of the carers at Synergy who really struck a chord with him when she explained her truly“valuable” relationship with one of her fostered young adults during her recent annual review.
We all have varying skills when it comes to managing our money. I remember how I was when I grew up. Always in some kind of debt to my Mum, (most of us are even if its not monetary!) usually small and manageable amounts but still in debt. My Mum would make me pay back before she would lend me some more, but I was often in debt. Perhaps that is why I learned to do lots of household chores and eventually even fitting my Mum’s kitchen later in my teenage years! As an adult I worked hard but I had debt problems until into my 30’s as a result before learning the real value of budgeting.
Recently, I heard from Lucy who is one of the foster carers at Synergy Fostering. She has looked after foster children in her home for the last eleven years and has first-hand experience of the value of setting up young people’s allowances for success in later life.
Lucy says “Its basically about living within your means, even at age 9 when the amount of money is small, learning that you do not need to spend everything you are given each week is a valuable skill.”
There is no amount of telling young people that can beat a good example and Lucy is certainly one of those; Helping her last foster placement who we will call Kelly, to save over £2000 in addition to her statutory savings over a five year period. Not only did that mean Kelly was in a good position to make her recent move to independence a success, she has also learned, and continues to practice, the skills of spending wisely and saving regularly.
Kelly told us, “Lucy is an amazing person, so stable and reliable for me, she has taught me how to enjoy life by being satisfied in spending money within my means. Now that I have regular bills to pay, and my salary coming in monthly, the amounts of money are more, but the example that Lucy has shown me is probably more important than ever.”
Lucy describes her journey like this. “At an early age I discussed with Kelly about savings and being responsible with her money. I encouraged her to think about the necessity of what she wanted against what she needed then deciding before making a purchase.
It was not until age 13 that I opened an account and deposited her pocket money and three quarters of her clothing allowance on a monthly basis. This was to help her to budget wisely. Afterall, when she would go into the workforce later in life she would be paid monthly. She would need that skill to be able to survive after leaving the care system.
One quarter of clothing allowance was put into as separate savings account. Toiletries were part of the household weekly allowance as a family. If extra toiletries were required, a discussion would take place and Kelly was encouraged to save towards those items.
This was agreed with her last social worker. No further discussion took place before the placement ended at age 18.
One of the most important parts of budgeting skills that Lucy firmly believes in is converting the weekly fostering allowances in to month payments. This might all sound really obvious to the those who are not involved with fostering, but one of the major hurdles Lucy has encountered are some of the children’s social workers along the way who have found this approach to be to challenging for them to support. Children’s SW are quite rightly tasked with taking the child’s wishes and feelings into account when agreeing the authority given to foster carers. Often the young person in care is already used to receiving the whole allowance on a weekly basis, so this approach represents a change for them that they find very difficult. By starting this process early in the child’s life they come to know this as the norm. The benefits in later life are very clear to see.
So, starting independence skills at age 9 might sound early in a young person’s life, but the benefits to them and our society are considerable. Thanks to Lucy, Kelly knows more about the secret to a happy and fulfilling life than I managed to learn by the age of 30!