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Opportunity Passport Aims to Teach Financial Literacy to Foster Kids

DES MOINES, IOWA -- Many kids in foster care will face challenges that their peers will not. If bouncing from home to home was not tough enough, many of their biggest battles come after they age out of the system.

According the the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System by the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, 1 in 5 will become homeless after age 18. Only half will be employed by the age of 24. Less than 3% will earn college degrees.

The Youth Policy Institute of Iowa is working to make sure Iowa’s foster kids have a level playing field when it comes to these issues and for them it starts with financial literacy.

“Money was always like a foreign concept to me,” said Lizette Webb-Strike, 24, Des Moines. “You get, you spend it! It makes you happy, that’s great!”

Growing up, when she got any money her pockets would be burning. Any parent of a teenager knows this is common then when they have some cash.

“Financial stuff like that doesn’t occur to kids like me. You don’t know about it. You just assume people get lucky and have money. Then other people are unlucky and don’t have money.”

Webb-Strike spend most of her teenage years in and out of foster homes, until she turned 17. Then just like she hoped it was just her, alone.

“I just needed to really be on my own, I had problems dealing with people,” said Webb-Strike. “I was just like I can make the best decisions for me.”

Strong-willed, Lizette was set on being independent but quickly found out, it was going to take more than determination to make it.

“The thing with being poor is you’re terrible with money. You don’t have it, so you’re not adjust to utilizing it properly,” said Webb-Strike, as she laughs about what she would buy. “I would go shopping a lot. I was a kind of a trouble kid so I would spend it on not so good stuff.”   

Webb-Strike is no different from most kids in foster care system, they are struggle with money. Carol Behrer is the director at the Youth Policy Institute of Iowa and she says the reason is obvious, they don’t have parents to watch handle money.

“The lack of normal teen experiences,” said Behrer. “Watching parents handle money or watching them pay monthly bills. Having those everyday practical experience are really just lost for this population.”

Enter in YPII Opportunity Passport program. It teaches these kids the basics of money.

“We might be the first adult to talk to them about the importance of money,” said Robert Biben, Opportunity Passport.

Bibens and the team, are working with over 90 kids right now. During the tenure of the program they have helped almost 800 and each kid that walks thru his door will learn three important things.  

“We talk about asset building. We talk about the importance of building credit and we talk about ways to manage your money,” said Bibens.

The program offers more than just class work, too. It will match dollar for dollar into a saving account, up to $1000 a year. And every time they need to buy something Bibens will review the purchase with them to see if this is the best idea.

“Hey this is something I could feasibly do,” says Webb-Strike.

During her time in the program, Lizzet started built up a saving account, revived her credit and even bought a car. Now, she is hoping that other foster kids will take advantage of this program.

“Don’t brush it off,” said Webb-Strike. “Knowing how to budget and finance, who to go through, and knowing how of that works, as complicated as it is so important.”