Quality Is about Social Ties and Trust for Everyone

By Gardner, James | Policy & Practice, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Quality Is about Social Ties and Trust for Everyone


Gardner, James, Policy & Practice


Economic, health, and social science research has demonstrated how our lives are enhanced by social ties with other people--our families, friends, neighbors, social groups, and co-workers. Increases in these social contacts have been associated with improved mental and physical health; lower rates of social problems such as juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy and deteriorating neighborhoods, and greater access to economic security. This has particular relevance for public human service professionals who work in Medicaid, child welfare, adoption, foster care, nursing homes, etc.

People who belong to organized social groups live longer than those who don't. Social ties produce reciprocity--we ask for favors or for help, knowing that we will gladly return the favor or help in the future. Social ties and reciprocity build trust. We believe that we can make commitments to others that will be honored and not require extensive bargaining or negotiation. These social ties and trust in our lives are collectively known as social capital.

The vocabulary of social capital offers a clear and generic alternative to the specialized language of disability services and programs. Researchers have documented the psychological, economic, social, medical, and educational benefits of social capital in all our lives, including those for people with disabilities and people with mental illness and their families, volunteers, service and support providers, and administrators. Increasing our social capital would benefit us all. With greater social capital, we will live healthier and happier lives, increase our community affiliations, and be able to exercise choice and self-determination. Social capital offers a common meeting point for people receiving services and support, families, employers, employees and community organizations, both public and private.

With a clear focus on social capital, we can redefine the role and purpose of support and service programs to increase the social capital of people with disabilities and mental illness. Organizations would be challenged to increase people's social capital within the context of the community rather than the organization or program. With increased social capital, people would have more allies and resources.

In short, the common unifying task for the organization, formal or informal, is to build social capital for the community of interests it serves--people with disabilities, families, volunteers, and employees. …

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