As Carr (2003) highlights a feminist empowerment model emphasizes power-sharing by prioritizing survivor decision making (Davies & Lyon, 2013) and by creating opportunities for survivors to take the lead in framing their narrative, concerns, and program models (Smyth et al., 2006). In order for financial literacy programs to become survivor-centered, programs must seek survivor input in all aspects of program design and implementation.
This qualitative study explores, from the perspective of 34 survivors recruited for focus groups from emergency and transitional DV shelters, approaches for implementing financial literacy programming. Transcription was completed by a researcher not affiliated with the data gathering process. Constant comparison analysis, based in Glaser and Strauss’s (1967) grounded theory approach, was used for data analysis because it allows for assessment of saturation of and cross-identification of themes.
The participants in this sample identified financial empowerment as a form of individual power describing it as being in control of their own finances. Participants cited the need for financial confidence, knowledge, and tools to counter financial disempowerment. One of the most important financial tools they identified was saving money, including saving strategies and challenges of using traditional banks.
Almost all participants stressed the importance of financial literacy services for survivors, especially around banking, credit, and debt. Specifically, participants wanted to learn strategies for saving, developing financial plans for housing, improving credit and credit scores, repairing debt, interacting with bill collectors, paying off student loans, and decreasing emotional spending. Finally, participants shared recommendations for job readiness and training, stressing the need for diversity in flexible and affordable job training opportunities with a focus on careers with livable wages. Participants shared that addressing motivation in job training would promote individual resilience post-trauma, as well as self-belief and self-worth.
Findings have implications for domestic violence and broader social work organizations implementing financial empowerment services. Curriculum needs to be flexible and incorporate informal financial strategies and tools. In addition to financial literacy services, job readiness and training programs are critical for survivors. However, such programs need to address the financial and practical needs of survivors, such as income, childcare and flexible work schedules. Program implementation and evaluation needs to focus on understanding survivors’ lived experiences and to center their voices as sources of knowledge. Social work researchers can continue to engage in thoughtful, rigorous research and evaluation efforts to support the development, implementation, and evaluation of financial empowerment programming. Limitations include that insights are drawn from a small group of IPV survivors and may not be representative of perspective of a broader spectrum of IPV survivors. The authors encourage practitioners to engage in their own efforts to incorporate the voices of survivors into their program design and implementation approaches.