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Five Themes Shaping the Growth of the Children's Savings Movement

On May 2, more than 50 Children’s Savings Account (CSA) practitioners, researchers and other supporters gathered at the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (“the Bureau,” formerly the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB) in downtown Washington, DC. This event—organized by the Bureau, Abt Associates and Prosperity Now under the Bureau’s CSA Initiative—focused on what practitioners and policymakers need to advance the field and move toward scale. The convening also generated ideas on how the Bureau can support the growth of the field and strengthen CSA programs and outcomes.

In the first panel, managers of some of the largest CSA programs talked about how they scaled their programs, their advice for growing other programs and the challenges they encountered in running large programs. Later, participants gathered in small groups to develop ideas about generating funding for CSA programs, creating standard metrics for the field, increasing family engagement in programs and improving the effectiveness of incentives.

Prosperity Now staff took away several key points from this thought-provoking event, which will help inform our work to support existing CSA programs and increase the number of children reached by programs.

The Field is Energetic, Enthusiastic and Highly Collaborative

Like other CSA gatherings, participants at this event were eager to share new ideas, discuss overarching issues that affect the scalability of CSAs and learn from others’ successes and challenges. 

People Enter CSA Work With Different Approaches and Objectives

There was a diversity of perspectives at the event regarding the why and how of CSAs. One lively discussion examined the relative importance of families making deposits to grow kids’ accounts versus building account balances primarily through program-provided funds. Participants also discussed whether the primary objective of CSA programs should be building a college-going culture that encourages more children to attend college, or addressing inequity. Prosperity Now does not see these approaches as necessarily mutually exclusive, but it is important to recognize that these differences in approach can lead to significant variations in program goals and design. 

Some CSA Programs Are Focusing on Outcomes That Go Beyond Higher Education and Economic Mobility, Such as Health and Civic Engagement

For example, Oakland Promise is evaluating the impact of the Brilliant Baby program on the physical development and health of children. Some programs are thinking beyond the impact of CSAs on individual children and families to broader community-level effects on the economy and community engagement. 

Universal Eligibility Remains a Key Pillar of CSA Design, But Many Programs Are Trying to Take a More Targeted, Progressive Approach Within a Universal Framework

Equity came up a lot in the day’s conversations. While many practitioners think universal participation is an important way to build buy-in and community support, they also want to make sure that their programs benefit low-income households and children of color particularly. Some programs accomplish this objective by focusing their outreach efforts on low-income communities, while others are working with local partners to secure additional incentives for children from low-income households

As the Field Scales Up, More Guides, Resources and Standard Tools on Starting and Operating CSA Programs Are Needed

While we’ve developed key fundamental resources for the field, such as Investing in Dreams: A Blueprint for Designing Children’s Savings Account Programs, more materials are needed to supplement these. For example, participants raised the idea of a research clearinghouse and a funding playbook.  

We look forward to continuing to work with the Bureau, Abt and other partners to provide more resources to the field and offer additional opportunities to continue the conversation about these and other important issues for the CSA field, such as at the upcoming Prosperity Summit.

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