Frontline Initiative Social Capital

Social capital:
The real route to inclusion

We know that Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) play a major role in supporting people with disabilities. DSPs are critical in helping many individuals attain successful outcomes in —

  • Meaningful things to do with their lives—work, community service, volunteering
  • Safe and affordable places to live • Safe transportation in and around their communities
  • Engagement in the community
  • Building long-lasting personal relationships

These are outcomes that all people long for and are reached, to a large degree, with social capital. According to Gotto, et al (2010) social capital is a set of relationships and social ties, with organizations and to individuals, that can expand one’s choice-making opportunities, increase one’s options, and lead to a more enriched quality of life.

We know this about social capital —

  • Most people get jobs using their social capital. In fact, one recent study found that 71% of respondents to a survey reported that they got their first job though a friend or family member. We know that the best way to get a new or better job is through your social networks – your social capital. Certainly, even if you find a job on your own, you still need to list references – friends that will vouch for you.
  • Housing is another area where social capital is critical. Most people reading these words are probably living with someone they chose from their social network. In fact, social capital is an absolute for people – no one, unless they are in an institutional model, live with someone they have not chosen. Yet, most people with disabilities find themselves in housing “programs” where their roommates are selected for them by an agency, program, or case manager.
  • Social capital is key to transportation. Unless you are poor or institutionalized you ride in your own car, or if your car breaks down, with your friends.
  • Engagement in the community is determined by the connections you make. Social capital is a network or set of links that bring you closer to others, whether in your neighborhood or around the world.
  • Relationships are often very difficult to maintain for individuals with the most significant disabilities. Building social capital can lead to the start of some beautiful friendships. Clearly the more social capital you have, the better your chances for getting a job, finding someone to live with, getting around, and getting connected Over the years agencies have put much time, energy, and money into services for people with disabilities. Yet, the data suggests that we have not really moved the needle on community integration. We must be bold enough to readjust our current methods and add activities that build social capital. It is clear to me that for DSPs, understanding and then establishing social capital strategies is essential to helping people reach their goals.