FCAB Convening: Time for Social Work to Make Cents

The Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis and the Financial Social Work Initiative at the University of Maryland have announced a convening scheduled for April 8-10, 2015. Scholarly submissions are solicited with a deadline of July 31, 2014. The Financial Capability and Asset Building (FACB) convening has two expressed goals:

  1. To advance FCAB in social work education, practice and research; and
  2. To strengthen networks of FCAB scholars, educators, professional associations, and funders.

Financial capability and asset building are a major component of an overall strategy for social and economic justice in the social work profession. It seems timely as the nation and the world continue to work out of the Great Recession. Yet, this initiative is a traditional hallmark of social work practice since its origins.

From the call:

Although social work has made important strides by contributing to FCAB scholarship and education, the need for evidence based practice is essential (Birkenmaier, Kennedy, Kunz, & Horwitz, 2013; Jacobson, Sander, Svoboda, & Elkinson, 2011). Social work has a unique opportunity for leadership in helping financially vulnerable families gain a secure economic foothold. In this way, social workers can renew their historical commitment to people’s financial well-being.

IMG_2848The FCAB sponsors will cover transportation and lodging for one author per accepted paper. They will also provide a $500 honorarium per paper presented. I have been working with financial concepts in social work education for the last 3 years, and I am excited about this event. But, I realize that others may not be so enthusiastic. Allow me to provide a couple of points that may change your mind.

Accessible Content

Throughout the financial crisis that swirled into the Great Recession, I often heard the phrase, “These financial instruments are very complex and hard to understand.” Pundit after pundit would recite the line. Interviewer after interviewer would allow guests, financial services professional and economists, to dodge questions by using the phrase. I grew increasingly offended at the assertion that I would not be able to understand the definition of a credit default swap or a complex derivative. Turns out, the definition was simple.

What we face as social workers are individuals, many of ourselves included, at the other end of that discussion, and efforts like the FCAB Initiative can provide a structure for our game plan. We can take the opposite view contrary to the pundits during the crisis and move towards creating accessible content and resources for social workers, financial counselors, and community professionals. We can educate our clients about the financial system from banks to bonds and from pennies to pensions.

Social Work & Financial Literacy Fit

The role of Social Work in the context of financial literacy is two-fold. First, social workers increase the client’s ability to navigate the fiscal environment including financial goods and services. Second, social workers broker and inform clients about local, regional, and national resources, processes, and redress available to them.

The navigation role is critical to asset building. In my work with my clients, I often find that though the lack of money is a significant barrier, money that could be used for the benefit of the household is stolen by fees, overpayment, and poor tax preparation. Some authors blame the need for immediate gratification, but I have found that the lack of knowledge is even more of a problem. For example, most clients, and many of my students consider it a given that one would pay a down payment when purchasing a car. This is not necessary when financing, but they do not know—so they pay.

The broker role is important because providing the information is not enough. I have observed clients who know better, but for whatever reason suspend their better judgment in order to complete a transaction. Of course, salespeople understand willpower and choice behavior. Social Workers can work with clients to operate more sustainably and make choices that will stand the test of time. A simple example: never go grocery shopping when you are hungry and without a grocery list. A more complex example may find a social worker traveling with a client to shop for a car. They begin by outlining a household budget. Then, they schedule time at a bank to determine financing that is reasonable afterwards walking together to the car lot to select a vehicle within budget.

If you would like to participate with FCAB:

Please submit 500 word abstracts (not counting references) that include a title, background, methods, results and implications, along with full contact details, and any questions to Margaret Sherraden (msherraden@wustl.edu) or Julie Birkenmaier (birkenjm@slu.edu). Papers should adhere to the standards of APA (6th edition).  High quality manuscripts will be considered for a proposed special issue of an academic journal.  The submission deadline is July 31, 2014.

Leading Change Through Community Practice


Social work is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, and one of the most rewarding. Community practice focused professionals work at the state and national level to promote empowerment, social change, social justice, and increased quality of life.

Through the building of coalitions/networks, program design and implementation, community practice social workers change the lives of millions of people each day. Based on an infographic by Case Western Reserve University, we’ve highlighted a few of the individuals today that are making an impact on the local, state and national stage.

Susan Blasko, Program Facilitator For Youth & Technology, PNC Fairfax Connection ~”Celebrating the community’s proud history and legacy of hope.”

As program facilitator for PNC Fairfax Connection, Ms. Blasko provides community access to childhood programs, historic preservation and cultural resources for the families of Cleveland, Ohio’s Fairfax neighborhood. Through the program “Grow Up Great,” Ms. Blasko leads a $350 million initiative for bilingual early childhood education.

Geoffrey Canada, CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone~“Cradle to College to Career.”

As the CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Mr. Canada leads the charge to serve over 10,000 children and 7,400 adults through a series of educational, social, health, and community-building programs to encourage academic success.  In just the last 10 years, Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded service coverage from 24 blocks to 100 blocks.

Frank Farrow, Director, Center For The Study of Social Policy ~“Ideas into action”

As Director for the Center For The Study Of Social Policy, Frank Farrow develops public policy solutions and provides technical assistance to support vulnerable children and families. The program’s initiative is to strengthen families and prevent child abuse.  In 2012, the Center For The Study Of Social Policy reached 35,000 participants in 23 states.

Paula McCoy, Consultant and Former President/CEO, North Carolina Minority Support Center ~”Serving Strengthening Sustaining Our Communities.”

Today, Ms. McCoy works to create economic opportunity through small business funding and community credit union advocacy across North Carolina. Ms. McCoy has helped 43 small businesses receive the funding they need through the procurement of $2.6 million in loan funding.

Sandra Moore, President, President, Urban Strategies ~”Engaging residents, revitalizing community, empowering possibility.”

As President of Urban Strategies, Ms. Moore leads the charge in rebuilding the physical and human infrastructure in redeveloping urban communities. Currently, Urban Strategies serves 19,980 low to moderate-income families in 14 communities in the United States.

Tom O’Brien, Program Director, Neighborhood Connections (The Cleveland Foundation) ~“Igniting the power of everyday people.”

Mr. Obrien leads the initiative of the Cleveland Foundation’s Neighborhood Connections. Through community grants and funding for over 1,600 projects, he has worked tirelessly to provide neighborhood grants to support every day people that are actively using their creativity, passion, ingenuity and connectedness to make life better.

Michael Sherraden, Founding Director, Center for Social Development ~“Enable individuals, families, and communities to formulate and achieve life goals.”

In 2010, Dr. Sherraden was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. As the founding director for the Center For Social Development, he leads the organization in the development of public policy innovations to enhance social and economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. The center focuses programs on asset building, civic service & engagement, productive aging and thriving communities.

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