This novel project funded by the Zaentz Economic Foundation joins together the Financial Social Work Initiative at the University of Maryland School of Social Work with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Maryland, to build in a broader cadre of services to individuals who are rebuilding financially and otherwise after a bankruptcy case. We propose to accomplish an exploration of the financial and psychosocial needs of these individuals and to create with our partners a broad plan to help ensure that individuals can rebuild positively after bankruptcy across a number of financial and psychosocial domains. The proposal below describes our project in greater detail. We believe that this project enhances the efficacy of the bankruptcy system in serving these individuals in need who may be dealing with a number of significant needs. We are bringing together a number of partners with a range of expertise to complete this project. This team is utilizing different yet complementary sets of personnel, expertise, and activities in order to complete the project deliverables.

In response to the needs of consumer bankruptcy debtors in Maryland, and the collective desire of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and a Working Group made up of members of the Consumer Bankruptcy Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and the Bankruptcy Bar Association of Maryland (including the Chairs of both organizations), and to provide resources and supportive pathways, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Social Work (UMSSW) with our Financial Social Work Initiative (FSWI) was asked to submit this innovative proposal. Specifically, this proposal is designed to support a partnership between UMSSW FSWI, the court, and the community served to develop and evaluate, using research-based methods, innovative programs to connect people in debt who have recently experienced bankruptcy with education and information about community-based resources that encourage hope and recovery, while connecting individuals and families with resources that improve not only future financial outlook, but overall well-being and resilience.

To accomplish the overall goals stated above, the UMSSW will work closely with our legal partners to design and finalize website pages that will be embedded on the court’s website. These new pages will be the start of developing programs and supportive infrastructure that will provide website visitors with information concerning the potential impact of bankruptcy and resources to support and encourage individuals who are rebuilding after a bankruptcy case. The resources will be vetted by the UMSSW and FSWI. We will provide brief descriptions of financial activities and links to community and online resources focused on various topics of most interest and need to people involved in the court system. Some of these topics will be financially focused such as financial coaching, financial goal-setting, talking with your partner about finances and fostering greater communication, and working to become and to stay financially healthy. Recognizing the important intersection and relationship between financial well-being and emotional and social well-being, as well as overall quality of life, we also will work to identify and promote resources focused on behavioral health and well-being that will support financial recovery. Some of these resources will focus on emotional well-being and counseling, family communication and counseling, substance use treatment and ongoing recovery, trauma-informed community supports, including violence prevention and recovery resources, and general mental health resources. The needs will be further developed as identified by data collected by the researchers, defined below. We will also convert the information on the website into an engaging handout that can be distributed to individuals served by the courts.

In an effort towards building a “hope and recovery after bankruptcy” comprehensive program that encompasses financial and behavioral health, we will launch an evaluation study that explores emerging and changing needs, individual and family stressors, and concerns, both with clients served and the lawyers and court personnel that work with them. Specifically, we will include a brief survey that clients can complete and we will survey lawyers and court personnel. For a deeper understanding of what people need and how the resources might help them recover, we will conduct upwards of 15-25 individual interviews and focus group sessions with stakeholders. Outcomes from this project will help inform programming that ensures we are working to meet individual and family needs.

UMSSW will work to develop and disseminate webinars and workplace trainings for section 341 meetings and other venues to court personnel, lawyers, ABA personnel, and other interested colleagues who have opportunities to share resources with people affected by bankruptcy. Part of the training will include teaching communication skills that foster empathy and rapport with clients who are facing or who have faced bankruptcy. We will also work with the courts to develop a series of videos that can be uploaded onto the court’s website and distributed widely. These videos will feature court leaders sharing messages of hope and resilience, and if possible, they will also include testimonials of clients served and who have rebuilt financially after bankruptcy.

Our goal is to use the foundational evaluation program described herein to develop a more comprehensive response to bankruptcy that can be sustained by the court in the future and shared with other court systems to replicate and take to scale. We plan to broaden the services provided by the court and to extend them in a way that encompasses sustained financial health, hope and resilience, and a more stable path for clients moving forward. A bankruptcy case can provide an individual with a financial fresh start, but it also may identify or leave unresolved nonfinancial issues that affect the individual’s recovery. We believe that providing additional resources focused on building financial stability and strengthening overall well-being after bankruptcy will empower individuals and supplement the financial relief offered by bankruptcy.

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