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Strengthening Human Services through Social Capital

ASPE has contracted with Research Triangle Institute and the University of North Carolina School of Government for this project, which seeks to understand how local, state, faith-based, and nonprofit human services programs and organizations can create and use social capital to increase employment, reduce poverty, and improve child and family well-being.

Project OverviewThis project uses expert consultations, a program scan, and case studies to better understand how human services organizations help participants build and leverage social capital to improve economic opportunity.

The Value of Relationships: Improving Human Services Participant Outcomes through Social Capital - This handbook shares emerging practices that human services programs can implement to help participants build and leverage social capital, and it includes worksheets to help program managers and frontline staff apply these strategies to their own programmatic contexts. Findings are based on interviews and focus groups with national experts, a national program of organizations using social capital, and site visits and phone calls to human services programs using social capital strategies. A two page summary of common principles and emerging practices accompanies the handbook.

Networks that Work - This three-episode podcast features conversations with participants and practitioners from various human services programs. They discuss emerging practices for building social capital and participant perspectives. Episodes include:

  • Close-Knit Communities for Better Outcomes: Using Peer Groups
  • Friend Request Accepted: Using Technology to Build Social Capital
  • Beyond Icebreakers: How to Help Participants Really Connect

Measuring How Social Relationships Contribute to the Outcomes of Program Participants - This webinar recording provides an overview of why human services programs should try to measure and evaluate their success in helping participants build social capital, offers concrete examples of ways to measure social capital, explores the role of logic models in the social capital context, and demonstrates how one program is doing this work.

Social Capital Considerations for the Incarcerated and Reentry Population This issue brief summarizes six considerations for organizations working with currently incarcerated or recently released individuals who are interested in improving their participants' outcomes through strengthening their individual social capital. The brief provides specific examples of how these action-oriented considerations are being implemented by four different organizations currently doing this work.

Case Studies – Below are a series of case studies about human services programs that are helping participants build and use social capital in diverse ways. They cover a range of human services domains and have different emphases on bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. These case studies were selected for their focus on incorporating strategies to help participants build and use social capital, and not for other aspects of their programming.

  • My Life My Choice (PDF) is a survivor-led organization fighting to end commercial sexual exploitation of children, which uses survivor mentorship and other services to help participants build social capital.
  • Project CARE (PDF) provides services to individuals with disabilities who are affected by or at risk for domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, or stalking in the greater Cincinnati area, particularly through the use of peers who have shared experiences.
  • Douglas County Community Mental Health Center (PDF) fosters relationships for incarcerated and reentering individuals recovering from substance use in Douglas County, Nebraska through coffee chats and connections with staff.
  • Family Independence Initiative – Detroit (PDF) partners with families to form small cohorts that meet regularly to hold each other accountable toward achieving their goals by leveraging their existing social capital, tracking progress through technology, and using small grants from the program;
  • CAP Tulsa (PDF) uses a two-generation approach that intentionally creates opportunities for families to build and use social capital by using a peer-to-peer cohort model that encourages families to connect with each other and develop a peer support network;
  • Roca, Inc. (PDF) “relentlessly” engages high-risk young people in Maryland and Massachusetts to help them tap into new, positive social networks, including with employers in the community;
  • Teen Challenge Arizona (PDF) offers faith-based residential drug and alcohol recovery centers that foster relationships with others going through similar experiences to build and leverage participants’ social capital; and
  • Connections to Success (PDF) helps individuals in the St. Louis and Kansas City, MO regions build lasting social capital ties with their peers and others in the community through the use of one-on-one mentoring and professional development classes to support employment and other goals.

Visit the social capital landing page for more research on this topic.