Beginning in 2004, The Annie E. Casey Foundation developed and piloted a theory of change that became known as Integrated Service Delivery (ISD). ISD was a new approach to helping lower-income people find work and improve their financial security.
Due to low wages, lack of benefits and inconsistent employment, many workers are unable to meet their own and their families’ basic needs through employment alone. Further, becoming financially secure and building long-term assets requires more than a paycheck—smart budgeting, building strong credit and saving habits are all part of the full equation.
The key to ISD is that it offers clients a set of focused services in three overlapping areas:
Employment and career advancement – including assistance with job readiness, job placement, occupational skills training, education and career advancement.
Income enhancements and work supports – helping clients gain access to public benefits, tax credits, financial aid and other benefits to improve their financial security.
Financial and asset building services – workshops, classes, one-on-one coaching and access to well-priced financial products and services to help clients improve their household finances and build assets.
Services from each area are sequenced and timed according to a participant’s needs in a “bundle” unique to the participant. An essential element is the financial coach who works with participants over time to set and achieve goals.
As clients reduce expenses, obtain public benefits and remove barriers to employment, the net value of their earnings rises, and the hope is that increases their incentives to work longer and earn more. Delivering integrated services requires well-planned program design, the hiring and training of staff with strong skills and backgrounds, and the thoughtful use of technology and data collection.
Because the evidence shows it works. The approach assesses its success not just by measures such as participation rates, but also by key outcomes for clients, including job placement and retention, family income, credit score improvement, debt reduction, and completion rates for college degrees or training programs.
“Integrating financial coaching and employment services can be an effective strategy for helping low-income individuals improve their financial situations,” according to a 2016 Economic Mobility study of Financial Opportunity Centers in Chicago (“First Steps on the Road to Financial Stability: Final Report from the Evaluation of LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers, Summary”).
“In sum, in the two years after program entry, the FOCs helped individuals take some initial steps to improve their financial stability. Relative to the comparison group, FOC participants were more likely to be employed year-round, to have reduced certain types of debt, and to have built more-positive credit histories as reflected on their credit reports,” the report said.
These recent findings echo other positive studies about ISD programs. A 2012 study on colleges in MDC’s Center for Working Families Network, for example, found the majority of participating colleges report a more than 80 percent rate of term-to-term retention, which far exceeds the rate for general student populations.
A 2015 report by LISC found that 76 percent of clients at its Financial Opportunity Centers increased their net income, more than half increased their net worth, and 60 percent either increased their credit score or acquired a credit score. The study evaluated 34 months of outcomes for 40,000 FOC clients—nearly all of whom were in the bottom 20 percent of the nation’s household incomes.
The Working Families Success Network has identified a shared vision of success for ISD, outlined in its Common Participant Outcomes. This standardized approach to assessment ensures data consistency across sites, and enriches the knowledge base about how the strategy is helping lower-income people get work and improve their financial security.
The Network has identified 11 Common Participant Outcomes, organized into four categories:
ISD programs are provided by a wide variety of organizations, including community development corporations, one-stop career centers, community colleges and neighborhood social service agencies. Many organizations that now provide ISD services were initially involved with one aspect of the work, such as employment services or financial planning. By using a bundling approach to service delivery and engaging with clients over time on a regular basis, they are able to foster a deeper engagement in the process with their clients.
Community-based organizations that offer ISD services are often perceived as more trusted, familiar and accessible—and able to provide a more individualized level of assistance—than government-run providers, especially for hard-to-employ residents like parolees or individuals who are chronically alienated from mainstream financial and labor markets.
Community colleges already typically have the capacity to provide many of the individual services that compose the multifaceted ISD approach, which meshes well with the mission of providing robust education and employment training programs. By connecting students to supports that allow them to overcome financial barriers, stay in school and find a career, colleges are equipping students with the tools and resources to help them meet their full potential.
Following the early indications of success from the pilot sites started by The Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2004, a network coalesced around the work of a handful of national foundations and nonprofits that were engaged in the pilots. These organizations added to their number and now lead the work of WFSN as the National Leadership Group (NLG)
The NLG works through five key strategies to support the spread and scale of ISD through local community-based organizations and community colleges. In 2013, these entities branded their collaboration and their relationship with local sites as the Working Families Success Network. The NLG is led by Paula Sammons of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Kevin Jordan of LISC.