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Uncovering the principles behind access to benefits services

15 February 2022
Principles provide guidance on how to act and what decisions to make. Financial empowerment (FE) interventions such as supporting people to gain access to benefits, are not only ‘activities’ to achieve ‘outcomes’, but are based on principles as well. It is important, in understanding FE interventions, to also take stock of the foundation upon which they are built in order to evaluate their effectiveness and develop best practices moving forward.

Through evaluating the financial empowerment intervention, enabling access to benefit services provided by three organizations acting as Benefit Navigators, SEED Winnipeg, e4c and North York Community House, Prosper Canada developed a list of six emerging principles for the service:
  1. Client-centred: Each client comes with their own strengths and barriers to the benefit application process. Benefit Navigators need to be responsive to meeting clients where they are in that process and what they might need for support. The service is designed to walk alongside clients and help them achieve their own objectives rather than prescriptive goals.
  2. Social equity: Organizations providing benefits navigation services are responding to systemic inequities in benefits access. They are helping clients overcome barriers in the design of the benefit system.
  3. Empowerment: Staff provide access to benefit services in ways that affirm the strengths of their clients. The goal is not only to enable clients to access the benefits they are eligible for, but to increase their confidence in their knowledge and skills as well. 
  4. Harm reduction: Client-centred services must minimize negative impacts for the client, at times supporting goals and outcomes that are “less than ideal” from a service provider perspective. This may mean not filing taxes or not applying for a benefit to avoid or reduce potential harm.  
  5. Trauma-informed: Many access to benefits clients have experienced chronic, complex and historic trauma. Benefit Navigators provide services that minimize the opportunity for re-traumatization and strengthen the resilience of clients.  
  6. Cultural relevance: Clients come with cultural, religious, and familial ideas around money and benefits. Access to benefits services honour and align with these ideas. 
Prosper Canada will be sharing more about what we have learned about best practices in access to benefits services in the coming months.  We are grateful to the staff and clients of SEED Winnipeg, e4c and North York Community House for sharing their stories, and  the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program, and the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security for funding these evaluations, through the national Financial Empowerment Champions and Building food security through access to benefits projects.