Financial Social Work: An Integrated Approach to Financial Well-Being & Economic Justice

Social work has a rich history of working with individuals, families, groups, and communities in order to tackle the problems that are faced in everyday life. Social workers address issues that are psychological, interpersonal, social, financial, legal, and school, health, or family-related. Social work has a strong underpinning of social justice with the responsibility in its Code of Ethics to address oppression and human suffering. Despite often dire conditions, social workers seek to find the strengths and solutions in each circumstance that advance the emotional and economic well-being of their clients and communities.

The origins of the social work profession from the early 20th century are rooted in the struggle for economic and social justice with the understanding that many social problems are directly connected to financial realities, poverty, resource limitations, and inequalities. The impact of the changing economy on work life, nances, health insurance, housing, and family responsibilities has dramatically increased the number of people looking to social workers for counseling, guidance, resource linkage, coaching, and advocacy. The Financial Social Work Initiative (FSWI) at the University of Maryland School of Social Work was founded in 2008 in growing recognition that addressing financial realities is more important than ever in people’s lives and in the social work profession, which serves those in need.

Financial social work encompasses:

  • Direct service with individuals and families, employing assessments and interventions that strengthen both their psychosocial and economic assets to help them build or rebuild their financial security;
  • working with entire communities, helping to reduce predatory financial practices and promoting access to affordable credit, appropriate financial products, and available public benefits and economic supports; and
  • policy advocacy to create an environment in which larger scale financial system issues are addressed with particular attention to the interests of vulnerable and under-served populations.

In keeping with the mission and vision of the social work profession, the FSWI integrates social work research, practice, policy, theory, education, and community partnerships. The FSWI aims to train new and practicing social workers in the field of financial social work, to increase their skillset and efficacy in working with clients in financial distress, and to advocate for greater financial and social stability and social and economic justice for individuals and communities. Through the development of direct service initiatives, educational content, capacity building, and evidence-based practice, the FSWI enhances the unique and longstanding role social workers possess in helping clients and communities stabilize and improve their outcomes and quality of life.

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