There's really no overstating the role money plays in our lives.
Our financial status often has an effect on our mental well-being, our relationships, our stability, and so much more. Social workers have seen this link for a long time, but in the last few years, a few in particular have stepped up to take action. Jodi Frey, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Maryland's School of Social Work, is one of them.
What does money have to do with social work? Well, if you think about it, it makes a lot sense for them to go hand in hand.
Social workers are in the perfect position to help communities build financial strength. This wasn't always apparent, though.
Frey says that when people came in with financial issues or issues that were amplified by financial stressors, the M.O. used to be to refer them to credit agencies and other institutions for help — but that was risky. There are so many predatory practices out there that the chance was too great that people would be referred to businesses that would only further their financial distress. Payday loans ring a bell?
Realizing they needed a better solution, the School of Social Work formed The Financial Social Work Initiative. It works to help social workers really understand what's happening on the home front — what's the environment that people are in that's causing financial distress and making it difficult to recover?
The key, they've found, is talking about and understanding money better. To do that, social workers start with themselves.
The Financial Social Work Initiative trains social workers so that they're prepared to talk to people about money. It helps those very social workers to address their own experiences with finances and to address any personal biases they may hold. It conducts research to understand what programs are available, which ones are working, and how to improve upon them.
Most importantly, it helps families to get on the road to true financial stability. It's not enough to make money if you don't have a savings. And what do you do if you're not making enough to make ends meet? The Financial Social Work Initiative is step one in addressing all of these issues. The initiative takes a close look at access on a number of levels: access to assets, wealth-building, and jobs that actually provide livable wages. It's a multifaceted approach. The goal is to help "from the individual all the way up to the community and policy level," Frey said.
Lack of financial stability doesn't just affect a few people. Nearly half of American households are financially insecure.
Frey told Upworthy:
"We saw the need of social work to better handle financial concerns with individuals and families within the communities. And I saw that in the workplace after the recession and the slow economic recovery where you had lots of folks who considered themselves to be comfortable and middle class, all of a sudden in financial crisis ... folks that never thought they would need to talk to a social worker or access community benefits were suddenly in financial crisis and potential ruin."
And there are many people who need help and need resources but are afraid of the stigma of seeking help from a social worker or through community resources.
Fortunately, The Financial Social Work Initiative is just the start.
Frey said she wants to "continue to figure out what works." She tries to keep in mind who is being reached and whether the programs are helping those who are in dire need or are only addressing a fraction of those who need help.
"Too often, the financial services out there are not for individuals in everyday crisis," she said. Her goal is to get to the root of the problem and help the initiative grow to address, on a holistic level, the problems that lead to financial instability — before the household gets to the crisis point — because the reality is, most people will face financial difficulty at some point in their lives. Knowing that there are resources out there to help is one step to curbing that problem.
This is a huge undertaking, but it's so necessary — and its continued implementation will change the lives of so many people. The more people like Frey who help highlight how important these money conversations are across economic spectrums, the more we all benefit.