Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

65P Strengthening Social Workers' Capability to Improve Clients Financial Capability and Economic Wellbeing: An Evaluation Study

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jodi M. Jacobson, PhD, LCSW-C, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Rebecca Sander, PhD, Director of Research, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Deborah Svoboda, MSW, Graduate Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Audrey Elkinson, BA, MSW Student, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Background and Purpose: Maintaining social work's commitment to serving others, with an emphasis on social and economic justice, propels us to work with clients to improve their financial wellbeing and economic conditions (NASW, 2008). Unfortunately, social workers lack formal preparation to help clients and communities resolve their financial issues and enhance their financial capability (Sherraden, Laux, & Kaufman, 2007). The authors present data from a pilot study evaluating outcomes from a social work continuing education training, titled, Financial Stability for Clients.

Methods: Using a one-group pre-test, post-test, with follow-up design, we assessed self-reported outcomes of knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding financial capability in social work practice. Thirty-seven social workers participated after registering for the trainings during 2010. A profile of the social workers surveyed, along with that of their client population will be presented. Pre-test and follow-up surveys were completed online, while the post-test paper survey was completed at the training's conclusion. Personal financial knowledge and behaviors were assessed using scales from the Survey of Consumers (Hilgert, Hogarth, & Beverly, 2003). Attitudes toward providing financial capability services, perceived self-efficacy, and practice behaviors related to assessment of client financial wellbeing were assessed using scales developed by the researchers, based on prior research, and input from financial experts. The survey asked social workers to identify organizational barriers that prohibit them from providing financial capability services (Lehman, Greener, & Simpson, 2002). Data analyses included descriptive statistics, dependent t-tests, and repeated measures ANOVA.

Results: From the time of the pre-test to the post-test (immediately following the training), participants reported significantly higher scores for knowledge regarding credit (p=.009), self-efficacy to work with clients (p=0.14), and ‘other' financial knowledge (p=.001). Other financial knowledge included life insurance, car loans, and bank overdrafts. Organizational structures identified as prohibiting participants from helping clients improve their financial wellbeing included not enough staff with expertise (27%), not enough time (24%), not able to bill for financial services (11%), and not covered by agency's grant or contract (8%). Overall satisfaction with the training was high (M=18.35 out of 20) and the majority of participants planned to incorporate parts of the training into their social work practice. Comparisons to a national study (Hilgert et al., 2003) and a sample of social work students (Sherraden et al., 2007) will be presented. Follow-up surveys will be completed summer 2011 and the authors will then re-analyze data to assess for sustained changes in knowledge, attitudes, and practice behaviors.

Conclusion and Implications: Financial capability services for social work clients are essential. Preliminary results suggest promising findings regarding outcomes from a training to improve the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of social work practitioners. Given the lack of professional training and education in financial capability and wellbeing, it is important that future research assess the capacity of social workers to meet the needs of vulnerable clients and communities in a more holistic manner that must include their financial status and potential to improve their quality of life.