Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Models of Financial Literacy Training For Youth

Paul C. Atkinson, CEO and President of Consumer
Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc.

There is no doubt that parents play a critical role in teaching their children about the world of money. A recent Buffalo News article highlighting this importance confirms the message that we give every
day to the thousands of people who use our services. All too often, we see
adults whose spending habits create negative consequences in their lives. Many times, they express regret that they didn’t learn proper habits in their youth.

Most youth experience their first introduction to financial management at home. However, many low-income parents, themselves struggling to make ends meet, are ill-equipped to teach effective financial management skills to their children. Knowing this, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo (CCCS Buffalo), launched a program to teach economically disadvantaged youth the skills of money management. Thus far over 200 youth have completed this program at Child & Adolescent Treatment Services’ three after-school sites and WNY United Against Drugs & Alcohol’s Summer Leadership Institute. Many more youth are being taught by CCCS Buffalo staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, the Renaissance House and through a unique “Mommy & Me” program for women and families in transitional housing
situations at Cornerstone Manor.

The City of Buffalo is one of America’s poorest cities so we serve an economically distressed region. As noted in the National Foundation CC April 2010 report, minorities and youth are at greatest risk for financial instability, and in the greatest need of acquiring financial education. Low income individuals are also at great risk. "Research demonstrates the positive impact of financial literacy training for low-income individuals…”

We cannot simply leave the teaching of financial literacy to parents, but we also cannot rely solely on youth financial literacy programs. In a significant development, recent research has indicated that there is little evidence that traditional efforts to boost financial literacy help students make better decisions outside the classroom. Even as the financial-literacy movement gained steam over the past decade, scores have been falling on tests that measure how savvy students are about budgeting, credit cards, insurance and investments. A 2008 survey of college students conducted for the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy found that students who'd had a financial literacy course in high school scored no better than those who hadn't.

A growing number of researchers and educators agree that a more radical approach is needed. They advocate starting financial education a lot earlier than high school, putting real money and spending decisions into kids' hands and talking openly about the emotions and social influences tied to how we spend. Based on this research, CCCS Buffalo has deliberately chosen to work with Kindergarten through 2nd graders and with 5th through 8th graders.

Without program intervention, Buffalo’s youth may be relegated to a life of poor financial choices. Our Financial Literacy Program stops this destructive cycle which not only harms local families, but decreases economic vitality in our region…a region which desperately needs financial health.

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