Abstract: Exploring Financial Capability Needs in Participants of Maryland Drug Courts (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Exploring Financial Capability Needs in Participants of Maryland Drug Courts

Friday, January 13, 2023
Alhambra, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Christine Callahan, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Maryland School of Social Work, Baltimore, MD
Background: Maryland drug courts are touted by the state of Maryland as providing a “dynamic alternative” and a non-traditional approach to addressing eligible drug-type cases and to relieving the backlog of drug-related cases in the criminal justice system. In addition to addressing drug charges and ensuring substance use/misuse treatment, they also integrate psychosocial and case management services into the cadre of comprehensive service provision. The Money Management component of services, however, has not been fully fleshed out and integrated and presently does not provide robust financial education at a helpful, effective level. Exploring financial needs within this population is warranted not only to better understand drug court participants’ self-perceived needs, priorities, constraints, and strengths, but also to bolster services within the Money Management realm.

Method: This exploratory project utilized qualitative methods in order to better understand the financial needs of those being served in Maryland’s drug courts and to hear their perspective on what might be most helpful in terms of education and guidance they need for their financial capability and well-being. Twenty interviews utilizing a semi-structured guide took place either by phone or Zoom. Because drug courts are located throughout Maryland, participants were from urban, suburban, and rural settings in order to understand similarities and differences among residents and programming.

Results: After transcription and analysis by the research team, results showed that participants were desirous of financial education as a component of their recovery and financial stability, and expressed the need for one-on-one financial coaching for assistance as they put their lives back together within the drug court system. Themes expressed by participants included dealing with a number of psychosocial, financial, and emotional challenges. Yet resilience and determination were also in evidence. Some had to learn financial skills on their own; very few if any had received financial education in their drug court program. But all participants voiced the need for financial education as a key need and resource for rebuilding their lives in ways that felt satisfying and responsible.

Conclusion: This project demonstrates the critical need for financial education and financial empowerment services within one state’s drug court system, and argues for this type of programming in this and other criminal justice and civil court systems. Addressing and integrating financial capability needs and resources is critical. Overall, evidence thus far seems to indicate that addressing financial distress and building financial capability seem promising in this population. More research will be useful to understand needs and promote financial capability and well-being within a comprehensive array of services that offers clients the very best chance of success and ways to participate more meaningfully in the economy.