Abstract: From Helena to Harlem: Barriers and Facilitators of Savings at Two SEED Sites (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12964 From Helena to Harlem: Barriers and Facilitators of Savings at Two SEED Sites

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 4:30 PM
Pacific Concourse A (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
LeAnn Wittman, MSW , University of Kansas, Graduate Research Assistant, Overland Park, KS
Purpose: A concern among social policy scholars is that low-income households have minimal financial savings to provide either economic security or opportunities to invest in the future. Individual development accounts and children's savings accounts have been developed to address these issues. From 2004-2009, a national asset-building initiative called SEED was undertaken to test the efficacy of matched, progressively funded savings accounts for children. Research was undertaken using multiple methods at 12 community based partner sites across the U.S. SEED explored, among other questions, participants' perceptions of factors that promoted and impeded success in saving.

Methods: An interview guide was developed which explored participants' perceptions of factors that were helpful or harmful in their efforts to make SEED deposits. In-depth interviews lasting 45- 90 minutes were conducted with 27 adults at two SEED Partner Sites, the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) in New York City and the Southern Good Faith Fund (SGFF) in Helena-West Helena, Arkansas. Interviews were conducted between April and July, 2007 with a randomly selected sample of 13 participants in New York and 14 in Arkansas. All participants identified as African American, with 4 male and 23 female caregivers. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, then analyzed using Atlas-ti. Themes were developed using deductive categories derived from savings theories and then from inductive categories which emerged from analysis of the interviews. The analysis explored how these perceptions were similar and different across the two sites.

Results: Participants at HCZ reported more barriers and fewer facilitators than participants at the SGFF site. Participants at both sites reported barriers that included lack of employment/income, expenses associated with transportation and school, and forgetfulness or time issues associated with managing their SEED accounts. HCZ participants, however, reported additional barriers including high housing costs, moves away from Harlem, lack of program understanding, and difficulty interpreting monthly account statements. Regarding facilitators of saving, one facilitator was identified in common: the participants' relationship with program staff. HCZ caregivers reported that monthly statements, while confusing, did act as reminders to save as did their recognition of their child's future needs. SGFF participants additionally identified the following facilitators: a sense of intergenerational loyalties, community relationships, relationships with other savers and staff, direct deposit, and the match provided by SEED.

Implications: The similarities and differences between the two sites are intriguing, because they point to the vexing issue of designing social policy interventions that are able to provide the equity that exists in universal designs but are flexible enough to adapt to local needs and issues. For policy makers and practitioners interested in developing a universal children's saving program, attention to commonly experienced issues such as the need for direct deposit and clear account statements will be important. However attention to the unique spatial, socio-economic and cultural experiences of savers in diverse locals will have implications for community based groups attempting to spur saving at household and community levels. The paper concludes with implications for research, practice, and policy development in the arena of child savings.