Promoting Social Trust
Most of the discussion of faith-based social services has focused on questions about the actual supply of services. But the way in which services are provided can also make a broader impact on the well-being of communities. Service provision can build trust in communities. It can restore people's faith in their fellow human beings and in themselves. Or it can undermine that faith, resulting in broken relationships, failure to seek the assistance one's family needs, or even a desire for revenge.1 The usual way in which trust enters discussions of service provision concerns the possible untrustworthiness of recipients: are they telling the truth about their needs, are they cheating to get services they do not deserve?2 Those are important questions whenever public monies are being spent. Here, though, I wish to turn the question around: do recipients regard caregivers as trustworthy, and if they do, what are their reasons for believing that caregivers can be trusted?
Understandably, scholars and policy makers have been concerned about the effectiveness of service organizations because these organizations are usually supported by tax dollars and philanthropic donations. Yet, from the perspective of clients, effectiveness is only one of the characteristics of service organizations and of individual caregivers that matter. Dealing with someone who is trustworthy, whom one knows well, or who shares one's background and values may also be important, especially because a person seeking assistance is in a subordinate or less powerful position than the person from whom assistance is sought. As a person having lost my job and needing help feeding my family, I may understand if the service agency I contact tells me I do not qualify under their guidelines or that they do not offer the kind of assistance I am seeking. But I do not want to