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In China, a new tool for financial social work

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Social work students in mainland China have a new tool for learning how to help families navigate financial challenges and build financial security. A landmark textbook from the Financial Capability and Asset Building (FCAB) initiative at the Center for Social Development (CSD) has been translated into Chinese.

“Financial Capability and Asset Building in Vulnerable Households: Theory and Practice” was the first textbook to compile insights and strategies on financial capability, tailoring them for social workers and other human-service professionals. Faculty Directors Margaret S. Sherraden and Julie Birkenmaier cowrote the book with J. Michael Collins. Oxford University Press published it in 2018.

The new translation aims to share that knowledge strategies with social workers in mainland China. Translated by CSD Faculty Director Shu Fang, Hu Yang, Fan Huanhuan, Zhang Xianling, and Yin Yin, 弱势家庭的金融能力与资产建设: 理论与实务 is a step toward a more inclusive financial landscape.

“The publication of the translated textbook will greatly assist Chinese social work educators in teaching financial social work,” said Fang, who is a professor in the School of Sociology and Psychology and head of the Department of Social Work at Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing. “Using this textbook as a model, Chinese social work educators will next undertake the writing of local textbooks.”

“We originally wrote the book because social workers told us that they often find themselves helping families meet financial challenges but feel unprepared for the work,” said Margaret Sherraden, research professor in the Brown School at Washington University and professor emerita in the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She and Birkenmaier codirect CSD’s FCAB initiative.

“We are so pleased that the textbook can be a springboard for financial social work in China, said Birkenmaier, who is professor in the School of Social Work at Saint Louis University. “We look forward to seeing the development and growth of Chinese-specific curricular materials in future years.”

Building on over 20 years of research, the textbook spans the full scope of social work, from individual practice to public policy activity. In addition to strategies for improving financial capability and building assets in vulnerable families, it discusses approaches to enhancing financial offerings, policies, and programs that benefit such families.

The book grew out of a curriculum that CSD experts developed with partners from minority-serving institutions in the United States. Teachers and students at universities across the country tested it for use in social-work and human-service courses.

“We are delighted that Dr. Fang and the translation team have found our work valuable for mainland social workers and we look forward to learning more about their experiences with social work colleagues in China,” Sherraden added.

Fang shared the motivation for translating the book.

“Our school’s social-work education program is one of the pioneers of financial social work education in China. As soon as this textbook was published in 2018, we received strong support from the school’s and university’s leadership to begin the translation work,” said Fang. “This also represents a new development of our long-term and continuous collaboration with CSD in financial social work education and research.”

Ongoing partnerships and an evolving landscape

Publication of the translation is part of a broad shift on the mainland.

Since 2008, China has greatly expanded social work by investing in the growth of the profession’s labor force and in financial-capability education for social workers. As of 2021, there were 1.57 million frontline social workers in China, and 660,000 of them held professional licenses.

The textbook’s publication is the latest in a series of collaborations through which CSD experts have shaped the growth of financial social work on the mainland.

Those collaborations began in 2004. Exchanges over the years have spurred professional social work organizations there to recognize the importance of financial capability within the profession.

In 2018, CSD and the Central University of Finance and Economics co-organized a symposium on financial capability in social work education. The gathering in Beijing drew leaders from key Chinese organizations and led the China Association of Social Work Education to establish the national Financial Social Work Commission in 2020, with input from CSD experts. CSD Research Director Jin Huang, who leads CSD’s engagements in China, delivered the mainland’s first national financial capability training in 2021, the same year as the launch of the central government’s “common prosperity” initiative, which emphasizes financial stability and reducing inequality.

“We are on parallel paths in the effort to build capacity of social workers to respond competently to family financial challenges,” said Birkenmaier, “and we look forward to productive partnerships in the future.”

“We celebrate this long-awaited publication by Dr. Shu Fang and colleagues, which is an important contribution to the financial social work education in mainland China,” said CSD International Director Li Zou, who has been pivotal in establishing CSD’s international relationships. “We appreciate this valuable partnership with Chinese scholars and policymakers and look forward to contributing more to Chinese people’s financial well-being.”

The Commission organized its First National Forum in 2022, with keynote addresses by Huang, CSD Faculty Director Margaret Sherraden, and Founding Director Michael Sherraden. The three also gave addresses at the 2023 forum. Keynotes by Huang and Faculty Director Minchao Jin at the 2022 Financial Literacy Education Forum further highlighted the importance of financial capability, reaching millions through state news agencies and other platforms.

Led by Huang, CSD is working with in-country partners on a pilot study to provide Child Development Accounts for children with autism.

Huang sees opportunities in the publication of the textbook’s translation.

“The Chinese translation of the FCAB textbook exemplifies a global commitment to developing greater financial capability and the continued evolution of global financial social work,” he said. Huang is professor in the Saint Louis University School of Social Work, research professor in the Brown School at Washington University, and research director at the Center for Social Development.

“Financial social work practice and policy are now key drivers of a renewed professional model in China,” Huang added. “The textbook will expand the capacity of mainland social workers to deliver informed guidance on managing personal finances, accessing services, and building assets – with improvements in financial well-being.”

As financial social work evolves on the mainland and the nation pursues its plan to train 30,000 new financial social workers, CSD’s work on this topic continues to grow.

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