The Role of Advocates for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence in Financial Empowerment Programs

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 2:30 PM
Balconies K, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Elithet Silva-Martínez, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, San Juan, PR
Fran Danis, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Judy L. Postmus, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Background & Significance: This paper examines the role of intimate partner violence (IPV) agency staff in implementing the financial empowerment program entitled, “Moving Ahead Through Financial Management.”  The program provides financial literacy training for IPV survivors that acknowledge the role of economic abuse in their lives.  The program was conducted at traditional IPV agencies by program staff referred to as “advocates.”  This study sought to understand the role of advocates in implementing the program.  Financial empowerment/literacy programming is a relatively new service for traditional IPV programs.  Information gathered through this research also helps identify best practices for program incorporation into an already overworked environment.

Methodology: Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with 24 advocates from seven states and Puerto Rico using an open-ended question guide. To insure uniformity across interviews, researchers were trained on the content of the questions and the interviewing process. All interviews were audio-taped, transcribed, and interviews conducted in Spanish were translated into English. The transcripts were then imported into Atlas.ti software package.  Data were analyzed using line-by-line coding, condensed into categories and eventually into main themes.  To maintain rigor, a team of researchers discussed the coding, categorization, and thematic process.

Instrument:  The interview guide included questions on implementing the curriculum, its strengths, limitations and areas for improvement, strengths and limitations in using groups vs. individual sessions, organizational support received during the implementation phase, recommendations for integration of the curriculum into community-based IPV programs, and the impact of the curriculum on the advocates themselves.

Findings: A total of 39 groups were conducted; English only (48.7%), Spanish only (28.2%), bilingual Spanish and English (15.4%) and bilingual English & Bengali (7.7%).  Advocates had an average of seven years in the IPV field and 92% had either a college or graduate degree. Advocates vastly reported that the curriculum was beneficial for IPV survivors; especially modules addressing economic abuse, safety planning, budgeting, credit and debit cards, and banking in general.  Concerns centered on the difficulties of women in poverty to achieve economic stability when they were still experiencing economic abuse.  Organizational support was inconsistent; some agencies provided tangible support such as food, materials, equipment and childcare or extra staff.  Overall, advocates agreed that the inclusion of economic empowerment content and programs strengthen services for survivors of intimate partner violence. A positive unintended consequence of the project was the financial empowerment of the advocates themselves. By applying the material to their own circumstances, advocates were able to increase their own financial literacy and personal resources. Thus, teaching the curriculum had a transformative effect on individual advocates. The findings also illustrate the complexities of implementing economic empowerment programs given the challenges of overworked staff at community-based intimate partner violence programs. Advocates provided recommendations for simplifying the content and recognizing that many of the survivors were living in poverty and were still struggling to make ends meet. Advocates who worked with Latina and immigrant women reminded us that the experience of women of color, including language barriers and immigration status, need more attention in the curriculum.