Designing CSA Programs with an Equity Lens

Children’s Savings Account (CSA) programs aim to help children and youth build savings and increase their postsecondary educational attainment. However, programs are implemented into a society with existing racial and societal inequities that make it harder for youth of color, and those from low-income or immigrant households, to achieve programmatic goals.

Equity is the absence of systematic differences between groups with different levels of underlying social advantage or disadvantage. “Equity,” which focuses on eliminating differences in outcomes for different groups, is not the same as “equality,” which focuses on treating everyone the same. Because inequity is common in the U.S.  (e.g. the wealth disparity between Black and White households), providing the same resources – both financial and itemized –  to everyone does not address underlying disparities. An equitable program accounts for the historical and ongoing discrimination certain groups face while providing different levels of resources to assist them in achieving the same goals as more advantaged groups.

Building more equitable programs and help all children complete postsecondary education means that CSA practitioners need to design and manage their programs in ways that account for the uneven playing field many children face. Prosperity Now has created a new resource, Designing Children’s Savings Account Programs with an Equity Lens, that offers CSA practitioners ideas, tools and strategies they can incorporate into the design, implementation and operation of their programs. This document supplements Prosperity Now’s CSA design guide, Investing in Dreams, by adding a layer of considerations around equity for key steps of the design process.

Bridging the wealth divide, especially by race, will take large, federal-level systemic policy changes such as baby bonds. However, while local and state programs may not be able to provide sufficiently large initial deposits and incentives to bridge the racial wealth divide, they can still promote equity through the ways their CSA programs are designed and operated.

Key principles for increasing equity include:

  • Community-centered design – The design process should center community involvement, particularly focusing on low-income households and households of color—not as a gesture but as a genuine effort to create a program rooted in the values and preferences of the community.
  • Accessibility and inclusivity – Each element of the program—from the eligibility rules to the account structure—should be accessible to and inclusive of children from all communities, especially children from low-income or immigrant households and children of color.
  • Targeted deployment of resources – Programs should direct more financial and non-financial resources to communities that face structural barriers to economic advancement.
  • Ongoing community engagement – Community input should not end with the program launch. The program manager should continuously gather feedback from participants and other community members to identify ways to improve the program.

Designing a CSA program with an equity lens is a multifaceted process—encompassing everything from the program’s design to the incentive structure to outreach after program launch. Designing Children’s Savings Account Programs with an Equity Lens provides CSA practitioners with concrete ways to promote equity and help ensure that more children have the opportunity to attend postsecondary education and have a successful future.

For additional resources on designing a CSA program, check out Prosperity Now’s CSA Starter Kit.

For more information on how you can support CSA initiatives nationwide, visit savingsforkids.org.

 

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