Survivors of Domestic Violence Achieve Financial Independence
Wanted: Your Money Smart Success Stories
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U.S. Department of Justice data going back many years indicate that domestic violence is common. Because financial education is often a key ingredient in helping survivors of domestic violence rebuild their lives, this installment of our newsletter's "Success Stories" focuses on how several organizations are creatively using the Money Smart curriculum (especially the "Financial Recovery" module in the instructor-led curriculum for adults) to help domestic violence survivors rebuild their finances and their lives.
For example, the YWCA in South King County, Washington, has offered financial education classes based on Money Smart in English and Spanish for more than 200 female survivors of domestic violence since 2006. In collaboration with the Jennifer Beach Foundation, the YWCA developed a 10-week "Hope and Power" class with guest speakers that includes typical financial topics (budgeting, borrowing, setting financial goals) as well as others that can be key to domestic violence survivors, such as finding housing and employment and applying for financial aid to return to school. Additionally, the YWCA makes it easier for the women to attend by providing child care, transportation and food.
"Almost half of participants report starting an education or job training program after completing the class and over a quarter report finding safer, more stable housing for themselves," said Jennifer Quiróz, Economic Resilience Program Manager at the YWCA. "Many of the women have reported meeting a financial goal and most report feeling more confident in their ability to handle their finances."
"An abuser puts a woman in check by making them dependent financially, but this class helped me repair my credit, create a budget plan and become financially independent after I left my abuser," said one attendee at the YWCA program. "I also never thought I could ever get a home of my own, as I was so far in debt, but I have now been on my own for over two years and I would have not made that progress without the backing of a program like the Hope and Power course."
For about 10 years, The Village Bank of Newton, Massachusetts, has used the Money Smart curriculum in a series of classes offered by The Second Step (TSS), a program that provides transitional living situations at two shelters in Middlesex County for survivors of domestic abuse. "We typically run a six-week series of classes, one night a week, as a component of other life-skill courses in each of the two shelters," said Elizabeth MacLellan, Senior Vice President for Compliance at The Village Bank and one of the instructors with the program. "In addition, we provide seminars to those women who have ‘graduated' from the shelters but return for weekly ‘nurturing' sessions run by TSS."
Susan Paley is the Community Relations Officer for The Village Bank. She coordinates its program with The Second Step and serves as an instructor at the shelters. She also attends each of the six weekly sessions to provide continuity and build an atmosphere of trust and safety for the women. But one of her favorite Money Smart stories comes from attending an event at a local restaurant when a young female employee emerged, gave her a big hug, and proudly said, "You changed my life." Paley realized that this woman had been a TSS participant the prior summer who sat angrily for the first few classes but then began to trust Paley and learn the skills she needed to succeed. "Her dream to manage a restaurant had come true," said Paley, who added that this is just one example of how "The Village Bank's use of the Money Smart curriculum has proven to be a big success."
Next comes a success story from the Women's Resource of Greater Houston (WRGH), which partners with local agencies to offer financial education classes to low-income residents using Money Smart and the U.S. Department of Labor's "Wi$e Up" curriculum. This is about a survivor of domestic violence who completed the Money Smart classes at the Fort Bend County Women's Center. She has since enrolled in college and started taking $100 out of each unemployment check to pay down debts and another $10 to add to a savings account. "My heart's desire is to finish college, get a job at a local hospital, and give back to great causes like The Women's Resource of Greater Houston and Fort Bend Women's Shelter," she said. "I am now empowered with the knowledge and the tools to be self-sufficient."
To learn more about the importance of reaching out to survivors of domestic violence using financial education, plus additional strategies for identifying solutions, see materials from a recent workshop in Washington hosted on May 17, 2011, by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Social Security Administration, and the University of Wisconsin – Madison's Center for Financial Security.
"Among topics discussed was the fact that many social workers do not feel equipped to teach financial education," said Bobbie Gray, an FDIC Community Affairs Specialist. "This highlights an excellent opportunity for financial institutions to partner with domestic violence centers and similar organizations to provide critical expertise for the delivery of the curriculum."
A Hands-On Approach to Financial Education: Teach, Track Progress and Coach
As is the case with many Money Smart partners, the United Way Financial Stability Center in Lynn, Massachusetts, uses financial education classes, a matched savings program for home ownership and a variety of other services to help its target audience (working families and low-income residents) move toward greater economic stability. But what may set the Center apart from many others financial educators is that it also invests time and resources in individual counseling and in tracking how the training has changed behavior.
"Workshop participants take pre- and post-evaluations to measure behavioral outcomes from the classes," said June Blair, the Center's coordinator. "Between 80 to 90 percent of the participants demonstrate behavioral changes on core competencies" in areas such as repairing credit, establishing credit, avoiding predatory lending, opening bank accounts, and increasing savings. Blair noted that the evaluation forms they use -- at http://financialedtoolkit.org/evaluation.html -- were developed and customized using a toolkit offered by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
The Financial Stability Center, which is managed by the local nonprofit organization SPIN (Serving People In Need, Inc.), has provided Money Smart classes to more than 300 people during the last two years. The six-week classes are taught by trained volunteers, most of whom are employed at a local financial institution.
Many of the people who come to the Center start by taking the Money Smart classes. "Almost from the very first class, we start to see them coming back for more information and assistance," Blair said. "Many of the participants also report that they learn things about their financial situation that they never knew before taking the class. One of the biggest surprises is that they can resolve their credit issues and repair their credit score."
Staff members also provide case management services in credit repair, opening bank accounts and avoiding predatory lending. And, the Center's "Budget Coaching" program uses trained volunteers to provide one-on-one assistance with developing and maintaining a household budget.
The sense of empowerment that came with taking advantage of the Money Smart classes and other services at the Financial Stability Center was evidenced by the story of a young, homeless, single mother of two. After learning that she could obtain her credit report, she spotted some questionable entries and worked with the Center to dispute and resolve them. Next she contacted her creditors to work out more favorable payment plans, used some of her tax refund to pay off the rest of her debt, and then opened her first bank account after using comparison-shopping skills learned from the Money Smart classes.
"Since that time she has started saving money to purchase a car and is very close to finding permanent housing," Blair said. "Using what she learned from the Money Smart classes, this young woman reports that she now feels confident in her ability to manage her finances to be able to maintain stable, permanent housing for herself and her children."
This story shows several common threads, according to Luke W. Reynolds, Acting Associate Director of the Community Affairs Program at the FDIC. "The Money Smart curriculum, when used as intended, can be effective in driving sustainable behavior changes," he said. "And, Money Smart educators who develop a goal for their program and involve financial institutions and other stakeholders are helping to improve the lives of their students."