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I should have been asked about my access needs from the start: Trauma, disability & financial capability programs

I am a Chinese Australian woman who lives with Cerebral Palsy in Melbourne. I was a participant of a financial capability program during a time in my life where money was tied to so much sadness and dysfunction, because my mother is a compulsive gambler. 

Content warning: This article contains a story about financial/economic abuse by a carer.

The Chinese culture believes in good luck and fortune and the flip side of that is karma and curses. This is how I grew up. You win some, or you break even, but the ultimate truth is, you always end up losing.

It was a roller-coaster living with gambling addiction. One week we were struggling to put food on the table sitting in the dark, and the next month we would go on lavish shopping sprees where money seemed to be no object. 

After many years of being exposed to and having a very unhealthy relationship with money as I was conditioned to think it was a weapon that was used as leverage against me. To obtain it was not something to aspire to but to relinquish because to own it would cause so much angst, hostility and abuse. 

So, when I decided my situation was no longer tenable (actually unbearable) I left to live independently, and this meant financially too. Every facet of my life was affected — not just accommodation, but relationship dynamics and of course, my financial situation. It was hard.

The compounding barriers and discrimination I faced trying to navigate a system that is made for able, mainstream Australians in crisis were many. 

I enrolled in a financial capability program. I should have been asked about my access needs from the start, but getting to the training room and bank and making it safe for me to access was a process I had to work out on my own. 

When partaking in a financial capability program which focused on budgeting and saving I was required to open a savings account, then participate in a money management course. Sounds simple, but for me, a person traumatised with fiscal abuse, it was triggering and opened all kinds of emotional wounds. 

I needed the program to be broken down into smaller steps. Up until then I had been isolated, with my privacy violated by my mother, who disguised this as her caring for my everyday life. Society accepted this because of the way I look on the outside, and the culture I am from. This is probably true even in the culture I belong to as well. It was a fact that I just accepted. 

There was no unpacking of the complexities of the intersectional barriers I faced then, and continue to face now. It went like this: When can you meet me at the bank to do the course? But I needed strategies to get to the bank independently, a method to get 100 points of ID together, and the assurance of privacy and security when I did open my own account. 

I needed a conversation about the safest way to carry out deposits and withdrawals from my account, and to explore the fact that most people with a healthy relationship to money do deposits and withdrawals with autonomy. 

Every time I went to a bank my mother was looking over my shoulder or forcing me into signing for student loans I didn’t need. They still hang over my head today, come tax time every year. When I went to the bank they admitted that they could see the signatures weren’t mine, but pulled me into a room and said they would pursue and implicate my mother, who was my carer at the time. So I was stuck.

Financial capability programs need the numbers to be viable — this became very apparent when they asked me if I know anyone with a healthcare or pension card. I know that’s just the reality, but I wish they’d also spend more time being curious about their participants’ needs and individual financial capability.

The financial capability program still emails me to this day. Each and every one of the people recruited has a story, experienced roadblocks, barriers or trauma and can not be boxed into a one fits all type arrangement that doesn’t meet people where they are, without considering the journey travelled. 

To build capability I needed to be seen and that’s not saying that I need all my barriers addressed, but an acknowledgement that I had them, and they were taken into consideration, at the pace that trust develops, to deliver a program that is a safe space for growth and learning, and to reconnect with money in a more healthy and productive way. 

I wish there were no assumptions about my capacity — high or low — more questions asked, and that financial capability was centred around problem solving together.

Grace

Lived experience advocate, Women’s Financial Capability Project

Grace* is a member of a group of women from First Nations, migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds and women with disability who led a co-design process to create Lens on, hands on: An Intersectional An Intersectional Guide to Financial Capability Program Development. The free guide shares intersectional principles and practical tools to apply intersectionality to your program, including:

Learn more about Lens on, hands on.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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