What led you to the social work profession?
As a young person I wanted to help people and to make a difference in the world, but I was unable to pursue a career in social work at that time. However, after 18 years of raising my two sons and running a special event company on Long Island, I found myself in a position to return to school for my MSW. It was absolutely the best choice I ever made, other than marrying my husband of forty plus years. My family and my business kept me busy during the 70’s and 80’s but my interest in gender (in)equality, and the women’s movement was strong, if not active. In graduate school, I found myself in a position to study women’s issues more fully which connected me to the financial issues which keep too many women at both a physical and fiscal disadvantage. This eventually led me (in 1997) to create the word FEMONOMICS that I defined as “the gender of money.” This year, I have moved on to FEMONOMICS 2.0; this is the “gender of money” incorporating seven additional components. These include the following realities about women; they:
- Earn less.
- Often have fiscal and physical responsibility for children.
- Have unique healthcare problems/access challenges.
- Are often charged more for products and services.
- Are disproportionately impacted by financial illiteracy.
- Live longer.
- Have gender specific obstacles resulting from how they are socialized.
While there definitely is a “gender of money” and the face of poverty is that of a woman, financial problems impact the lives of both men and women. As a result, in 2003, FEMONOMICS evolved into Financial Social Work and the Center for Financial Social Work. When I began FEMONOMICS and Financial Social Work sixteen years ago, more social workers resisted than supported talking to clients about money. This attitude has since shifted as the field of financial literacy emerged and the great recession contributed to unemployment, underemployment, increased homelessness, hunger, poverty and growing economic disparity.
What led you to create of the Center for Financial Social Work?
Although graduate studies for a master’s degree in social work addresses many aspects of working with the poor and the disadvantaged, such as the programs, policies and social issues which challenge these populations, money management, financial literacy or financial education are not a part of the curriculum. As I recognized the relevance and importance of this information in clients’ lives, I also recognized the need for it to be available to the social work profession. It was then that I created the term “Financial Social Work.” At that time, I also began creating a curriculum that taught money management/financial education from a social work/psychosocial perspective. The Financial Social Work certification is interactive, introspective and multidisciplinary. It incorporates transformative learning and a trans-theoretical behavioral model of change approach. The model incorporates on-going financial education, motivation, validation, and support.
Can you explain the Financial Social Work Certification in a bit more detail?
Although members of our profession are known to be agents of change, change is always a choice. Choice is always very individual, emotional and personal and must be made on a daily (sometimes hourly or minute to minute) basis. Each of our students makes his/her own personal journey to a better financial future via the certification. In this way, our graduates transform into more HOPEFUL and positive role models, as well as effective resources and referral sources. The FSW certification is designed around the premise that taking control of your money is the only way to gain control of your life. To achieve both, requires increased financial knowledge, skills and tools, but it also demands expanded self-awareness and sense of self. This is because if you don’t feel worthy or deserving of a better financial future, you’re unlikely to work to create one.
What advice can you offer to current social work students and future social work students regarding their entering the profession?
The license plate holder on my car reads “Proud to Be a Social Worker,” and I am. I am passionate about the work I do and excited to have the opportunity to be able to make a difference in the lives of so many people. Social work is my calling; I know many other social workers feel the same way about their work. One caveat for all social workers (new and/or experienced) is the need to value the work you do, and avoid the thinking which facilitates lower pay such as, “I’m not in it for the money” or “Helping people is more important than making a lot of money.” The work we do in the mental health and human service fields is important and should be accorded the financial remuneration and professional status/recognition of the education, training, dedication and experience it requires. It is important for social workers to advocate for themselves, as well as for their clients.
What changes do you think are needed in the social work profession?
While our profession has a wonderfully long and proud history, the times are changing and social work needs to change with the times. Certainly social workers work in many more diverse setting and with more diverse populations than ever, but mental health and traditional healthcare delivery are changing and it is critical that our profession be not only an active part of those changes, but at the forefront of these changes. I encourage all social workers to actively participate in social media to have their pulse on the social trends impacting client populations, to be connected to other social workers, to know what others in the profession are doing and to help to maintain a social work presence. Finally, I urge all social workers to consider the role of money in their own lives and the lives of their clients, and to recognize the need to address this issue in client work.
Thank you to Reeta Wolfsohn for agreeing to be interviewed.
By Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer