On Monday, November 17 the Child Welfare League of America worked with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to sponsor a session in Virginia to discuss issues of financial challenges for youth in foster care. The event was held in Fairfax Virginia at the ICF offices and included CWLA members from Virginia and Maryland.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created under the recent banking reform law known as Dodd-Frank, their responsibilities include education of the consumer as defense against abusive practices, enforcement and oversight of banks, credit unions, and other financial companies in regard to consumer financial laws, and studying and analyzing information to better understand consumers, financial services providers, and consumer financial markets. In particular the office of financial empowerment pays special focus to vulnerable populations including youth in foster care.

The event brought together key stakeholders including Eileen McCaffrey, Executive Director, Foster Care To Success, two young people who had both been in foster care: Lacresha White, MSW student, University of Maryland – Baltimore, and Richard J. “R.J.” Tilley, Alumni, Our House Program. They were joined by Dara Duguay, Executive Director, Credit Builders Alliance, and Jennifer Jones, Foster Parent, FACES of Virginia Families.

The format was an on-going dialogue as featured speakers gave their perspective and participants including CWLA members, HHS staff and the CFBP staff asked questions and offered their information. What became clear is that even when resources and tools are available what is most needed for youth in care is a coordinated strategy that fits the needs of the young person in foster care. As Eileen McCaffrey noted, “no one youth in foster care is typical and all young people are unique.” As a result part of the discussion involved how to best meet young people where they are at and in ways they communicate and gather information.

Both young people shared their experiences and in particular J.T. shared being in and out of foster care and the challenge of trying to reunify with his family which didn’t work. His eventual path came through a Montgomery county, Maryland program Our House, a residential center that services young people both from foster care, juvenile justice and disconnected youth through training and learning programs. Ultimately the director, Richard Bienvenue (who also attended) became a mentor to him. The Our House program was created in 1993 and includes a structured program of five eight-hour days of training in various skills including carpentry, drywall and roofing, as well as life skills’ training, academics and therapy sessions in the evenings.

Jennifer Jones from FACES of Virginia Families spoke from personal experience as a foster parent. She spoke to the challenge of trying to help her two kids especially when they reached the age of 18 and decided against remaining in care despite the family and the state offering that chance. Her insights and experiences gave a vivid example of the challenges in helping young people make a successful transition.

Dara Duguay, Executive Director, Credit Builders Alliance, discussed some of the challenges she has seen through her organization in trying to address the needs of vulnerable population –epecially young people. As she pointed out in her comments and in the information the Credit Builders Alliance promotes, many young people fall prey to easy credit cards or predatory lenders without understanding the consequences of large debt and how such debts affect their credit profiles and how that in turn affects their lives. While federal law now requires credit checks by child welfare agencies at age 14 (just lowered from age 16) young people need to understand what that report means and how to use the information to create a positive credit rating. The Credit Builders Alliance provides resources to state and local child welfare agencies such as credit checks for youth in foster care.

As part of their on-going work, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues to work on creating resources to assist child welfare and other human services staff. The goal is to address some of the financial barriers confronted by disadvantage populations including youth in foster care. Your Money, Your Goals is a toolkit that social services organizations can use to help their clients set goals, choose financial products and build skills in managing money, credit, and debt. The web-based resources are in part targeted to case managers and case workers.

The CFBP has also produced an Implementation Guide, to help social service organizations build a plan for integrating the financial empowerment toolkit into the services they provide for clients. The guide assists in preparing and delivering training to frontline staff on using the toolkit in their day-to-day work. They have also provided pre-training, post training and follow up material.