2022 News

Journal spotlights research to improve financial well-being in vulnerable families

Photo by Allen Altiner on Unsplash.

How can vulnerable families overcome barriers to financial security, and what has made it difficult for them to do so? New research in a special issue of Families in Society seeks answers to those questions.

Guest edited by Jin Huang, Margaret Sherraden, Jenny L. Jones, and Christine Callahan, the collection developed from papers presented during a national conference hosted at Washington University by the Brown School’s Center for Social Development (CSD) and the Financial Social Work Initiative at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Funding came from the National Endowment for Financial Education, the Woodside Foundation, and the Grand Challenges for Social Work.

“We began this project to develop a better understanding of how financial well-being has become elusive for families,” explained Margaret Sherraden, a research professor in the Brown School at Washington University and a faculty lead of CSD’s Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) initiative.

She added, “We also wanted to better understand the roles that helping professionals, including social workers, might play in overcoming those barriers.” For families in crisis, guidance from those professionals can be critically important.

“Financial and economic issues underlie many of the problems that bring families to social services,” the editors write in the issue introduction. “Intake interviews … often reveal insufficient income and assets, overwhelming debt, lack of emergency savings, limited access to public benefits and social assistance, challenges obtaining a bank account or credit, and worries about their future financial well-being.”

Guest editor Jin Huang noted takeaways: “This collection shows that families who bring financial struggles to social workers can find guidance on operating in an increasingly financialized society and on improving financial security.” Huang is a professor of social work at Saint Louis University, a research associate professor in the Brown School, and a faculty lead of CSD’s FCAB initiative.

“But the collection also shows that those outcomes – financial capability and financial security – require a broader framework of supportive programming and sound policies,” said Huang. “The contributors show how to build parts of that framework.”

Jin Huang
Margaret Sherraden
Jenny L. Jones
Christine Callahan

As dean of the Whitney Young Jr. School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University, guest editor Jenny Jones brought to the project her insights from training students for financial capability practice. “I began incorporating financial content into social work classes, BSW and MSW classes, to introduce students to issues related to families that are referred to social service agencies for various services,” Jones said. “Little to my surprise, students started asking me, ‘Why haven’t we learned about this before?’ We work with clients that need help with their finances and with navigating financial systems all the time. Students embraced the skills when they saw how pivotal these issues are in the lives of their clients.”

Guest editor Christine Callahan also came to the project through her efforts to develop social workers’ capacity for guiding clients in their financial struggles. “Social workers in the field today recognize that a better understanding of financial matters and addressing financial distress to an even greater degree would enhance their work with service populations – with individuals, couples, and families who often are dealing with complex psychosocial and financial problems and stressors that are intertwined and involved,” she said.

Callahan, research associate professor with the University of Maryland’s Financial Social Work Initiative, contributed a study to the issue. She and colleagues evaluated the University of Maryland School of Social Work’s certificate program in financial social work.

“Our work in this special issue and in the certificate program is designed to develop supports that enable social workers to engage effectively and even more meaningfully and comprehensively with clients, in programming, and at the level of policy,” said Callahan. She added, “Through all these venues and opportunities, we are excited to continue to get the word out about the paramount importance of building financial stability with people who are hurting.”

In closing the issue introduction, the editors nod to the work ahead. “This special issue is one small step in this direction, but we need far more practice and policy innovations, training and education, and research.” Such efforts, they assert, are necessary to enable all families to gain the economic freedom envisioned in the essay by Devin Fergus and CSD Faculty Director Trina Shanks.

That freedom, the editors note, “enables families to realize their ‘hopes and capabilities.’”

Established in 1920 by Mary Richmond, Families in Society was the first research journal in social work. The journal is published by SAGE Publishing through an agreement with Social Current, the journal’s parent organization. In honor of Black History Month, SAGE has made the issue freely accessible without a subscription through the month of February.

Special Issue | Building Financial Capability and Assets in America’s Families

Edited by Jin Huang, Margaret S. Sherraden, Jenny L. Jones, and Christine Callahan

Building Financial Capability and Assets in America’s Families [Issue introduction]
Margaret S. Sherraden, Jin Huang, Jenny L. Jones, and Christine Callahan

The Long Afterlife of Slavery in Asset Stripping, Historical Memory, and Family Burden: Toward a Third Reconstruction
Devin Fergus and Trina R. Shanks

Family Self-Sufficiency Program Outcomes for Participants Enrolling During and After the Great Recession
Anna Maria Santiago and Joffré Leroux

Household Language Barriers, Community Language Resources, and Asset Ownership Among Immigrants and Refugees in Western New York: A Mixed-Methods Study
Yunju Nam, Sarah Richards-Desai, and Yingying Zeng

Help When You Need It: Sources of Advice for Student Loan Borrowers Across the Life Course
Julie Miller, Alexa Balmuth, Samantha Brady, and Joseph Coughlin

A Process to Identify and Address Barriers to Providing Financial Capability Programming to Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence
Sarah Myers Tlapek, Leslie Hannah Knott, and Rachel Voth Schrag

A Financial Social Work Certificate Program for Community and Family Practitioners
Christine Callahan, Jodi Jacobson Frey, Rachel Imboden, and Seanté Hatcher

Financial Capability and Asset Building With a Racial- and Gender-Equity Lens: Advances from the Field
Christy Finsel, Mae Watson Grote, Margaret Libby, Cathie Mahon, and Margaret S. Sherraden

A Century of Family Budget Counseling
Paul H. Stuart