In early 2020, my daughter approached me about fostering two brothers she met through her work with Peace4Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a sense of community for youth in foster care in the Compton area of Los Angeles. These two boys had come from a broken family in which both parents had struggled with homelessness, and one also suffered from drug addiction. The kids were placed into foster care with their older brother, but the caregiver decided that she no longer wanted the younger boys and “7-day’d” them, meaning that social services had seven days to find them a “new home.” They couldn’t find a home willing to take both boys so we were asked if we could provide a temporary respite home while they looked for a longer-term solution in which they could remain together.

As we welcomed the boys into our world, we became intimately acquainted with their lives as we took on new responsibilities, from driving them to school over an hour away so they didn’t have to switch schools, coordinating family visits with social workers, learning how to navigate Medicaid for doctors and dentists, and scheduling and participating in many different types of in-home therapy.

Two weeks after we took them in, Covid happened and everything went remote. My husband and I, our two high school daughters, and the two boys were all home trying to adjust to school and work on a computer and living in close quarters 24/7. Despite the challenges, the bond we formed made us feel like a family as we navigated this transitional period. During that extended period, we learned a lot about what it really means to set children up for success, especially when so many factors are against them.

Research shows children from poor backgrounds are more likely to experience poverty in adulthood. They are disproportionately affected by institutional and systemic inequities—less access to a quality education or opportunity and a racial wealth gap, all of which are key problems in the cycle of poverty. Understanding these factors is crucial in addressing generational poverty effectively.

Limited access to quality education is a persistent obstacle in underserved communities, as many of these children are more likely to attend underfunded schools with inadequate resources. They find themselves caught in a cycle where their educational prospects are limited from the start, making it difficult to break free from the grip of poverty. In adulthood, that translates to lower-paying jobs that make it challenging to provide a stable home environment that fosters their own children’s physical, emotional and educational well-being.

And at no fault of their own, many of these young people also lack exposure to mentors who have achieved success and made good financial decisions, and that affects the children’s aspirations and expectations for the future. Without positive role models and financial guidance they’re navigating uncharted territory, unsure of how to set and achieve goals to break free from the constraints of their circumstances. But by creating a supportive environment that includes mentorship and financial education, we can offer underprivileged youth the tools they need to chart a course toward a brighter and more prosperous future.

Fortunately, organizations like the Sifma Foundation have recognized the urgent need to address this issue. For example, the foundation has reached nearly 22 million students through its programs and initiatives designed to promote financial education and opportunity for underserved youth. It partners with schools and key players in the financial services industry to teach lessons on personal finance, and also to expand students’ access to opportunities with financial professionals, which can broaden their horizons about possible career paths. The foundation’s work has also allowed children to share their newfound knowledge with their families, creating an intergenerational opportunity to break the cycle.

There’s a concept called a “supportive village” which assumes that poverty is not just an individual issue but a systemic one. This idea emphasizes the importance of collective efforts and support structures in helping people escape difficult cycles. Parents, educators, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, and the financial services industry should be partnering to provide resources and opportunities to those in need.

Imagine a world where every child can dream, learn and grow without the heavy burden of poverty weighing them down. When they are trapped in the cycle of poverty, their potential is stifled, their dreams are deferred and society suffers. Financial services can be a force for change here—by allocating resources to initiatives that directly benefit children in need, by engaging in mentorship programs, by advocating for policies that address child poverty, or by forging partnerships with organizations dedicated to this cause. This is not just an investment in the future of poor children but also in society.

The kids we fostered are now reunited with their mother and doing well. We still keep in close touch and see them regularly. They are happy to be back with their mom and brother. We were a small blip on their life journeys, and although I believe we made a positive impact, shifting the trajectory of the life they were born into takes far more—it requires societal changes and major changes from policymakers. The systemic challenges in our society are a complex thing to wrap your arms around, and effecting lasting change is clearly very difficult. But what this taught us is that we, as adults, are the role models to the youth with whom we interact, whether it’s our own children or those we have relationships with through coaching, teaching, volunteering or something else. To stop the cycle of poverty requires more than just funding programs to support these youth; it requires supporting their caregivers and the role models who shape their aspirations and belief systems. I certainly don’t have any answers, just more questions. But I hope we can work toward making a difference in improving the lives of those like these two boys.

Susan Theder is the Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at FMG Suite and a current board member of the Sifma Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to fostering upward economic mobility for underserved youth through mentorship and financial education.