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Against the backdrop of the economic meltdown, a movement is building within the ranks of America's social workers to make their profession more adept at helping clients overcome financial woes.

Since they emerged on the scene in the late 19th century, social workers traditionally have sought to improve the lot of the poor. But in the contemporary era of rampant foreclosures, credit card debt, and ever-evolving scams that prey on the economically vulnerable, few social work schools offer specialized financial training to their students, leaving them collectively unprepared.

Change is under way, however.

_The University of Maryland's School of Social Work recently embraced the concept of "financial social work," offering workshops and mini-courses for students and people already working in the field. Professor Dick Cook, who runs the school's outreach service in Baltimore, said a primary goal is to help clients think more broadly about how to build assets.

_In St. Louis, social work professors have organized a "think tank" to brainstorm on how social work schools can better prepare their students to assist clients with financial decisions.

_In Ashville, N.C., social worker Reeta Wolfsohn is offering an online certificate course in financial social work that has extended into 20 states. The Social Services Department in North Carolina's Wilson County last fall hired a "financial coach" who had taken Wolfsohn's course.

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