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A New Focus for Social Workers: Clients' Financial Savvy

PHOTO: Social workers are starting to navigate the topic of improving their clients' financial health with an online toolkit first tested in Oregon. Photo credit: Jane M. Sawyer/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Social workers are starting to navigate the topic of improving their clients' financial health with an online toolkit first tested in Oregon. Photo credit: Jane M. Sawyer/Morguefile.
August 19, 2014

EUGENE, Ore. - A new online toolkit that was tested in Oregon is showing social service case managers how to talk about and help improve their clients' personal finances.

Groups and agencies that advise lower-income Oregonians about the assistance they need can now also offer options on achieving a better long-term financial future. Case managers can use Your Money, Your Goals to bring up the sensitive subjects of debt, income, and how clients manage their money.

Mark Brower, manager of the Prosperity Forum at Goodwill Industries of Lane and South Coast Counties, says social workers don't have to be financial planners to make a positive impact.

"What this particular program was designed to do was help social services people become more comfortable with financial services," he says. "It gives them some tools so they can talk with their people about things that can really make a difference in their lives."

Your Money, Your Goals is part of a larger trend known as "financial wellness," in that a person's improved financial health can go a long way toward easing their other stresses and challenges. It was created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and is available on the agency's website in English and Spanish.

Janet Byrd, executive director of the organization Neighborhood Partnerships, says the federal consumer watchdog agency came to Oregon for its pilot project.

"We worked with partners across the state testing the toolkit, and providing feedback to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau," she says. "Now we're really excited to see the toolkit roll out statewide."

Your Money, Your Goals gives case managers information to help people find and correct errors on their credit reports, evaluate financial products and services, and start budgeting, paying down debt and saving money. For those living paycheck-to-paycheck, Brower says these are critical skills.

"People in poverty actually have more need for financial education than those that have money," Brower says. "And the reason is, they have so little of it that there is no margin for error. So, for them to understand how to control their money is life-saving, not just life-changing."

Brower adds he's noticed lower-income clients will often say they have no goals, but they have dreams. He says a case manager who earns their trust can help them see that a dream can be a goal, and that it's achievable one step at a time.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR