The Power of Social Capital to Reduce Disparities

September 13, 2018

The Kids Count (2016) and Race for Results (2017) reports by the Annie E. Casey Foundation identified disparities in overall child well-being across America. The local and national trends made visible through these reports highlight stark racial and socio-economic gaps, among other inequalities, in education, family and community, economic well-being, and health.

The building of social capital has been extensively studied in the scientific community as an effective approach to address such inequalities; notably, a loving, caring environment of social support and strong relationships has been found to be supportive of positive child outcomes. Research shows that a community rich in social capital (connections) across diverse backgrounds reduces disparities, and that increasing the social capital of all families within a community – as well as empowering small collectives of parents from socially-marginalized, low-income communities – has long-term impacts for both increasing local economic outcomes and reducing disparities in education, health, and more (Neurons to Neighborhoods, 2000).

Within this research, the FAST® Program is recognized as optimal for building social capital linked to positive child outcomes, including supporting academic achievement and reducing behavioral problems. Social capital-building activities of FAST are summarized by Shoji, Haskins, Rangel, Sorensen (2014):

[FAST’s] strategies include opening and closing routines to emphasize the group’s status as a bounded community, singing and games to build unity through shared positive experiences, and adult-only discussion time for parents to build support networks by sharing and listening about their lives. Moreover, FAST Team members are trained to ensure that families follow behavioral norms for participating in activities in ways that facilitate social bonding (p. 603).

FAST engages families, reduces social isolation and helps them to establish meaningful connections within the school and community. According to Shoji et al.(2014), social capital is promoted by the FAST program through four distinct practices:

  • responsive communication, “communication in which the listener(s) reacts readily and with interest or enthusiasm;”
  • reciprocal communication, “communication that is characterized by give and take;”
  • shared experiences, “encounters, circumstances, or other occurrences, either adverse or favorable, that are communal, collective, or cooperative in nature;” and
  • institutional linkage, “connection to an institution via social ties to institutional agents, or people with knowledge of, access to, or control over institutional resources” (p. 606-608).

The Parent Time component of the FAST program is considered to be especially inclusive of these practices, and, therefore, valuable to the building of social capital (Shoji et al., 2014).

Parent GroupIn fact, social capital among parents is integral to the development of children; children behave better toward their peers when their parents demonstrate stronger relationships – improved behavior, in turn, is linked to improved (school) performance (Turley, Gamoran, McCarty, Fish, 2015). This is one example that demonstrates the need for a holistic approach, which targets families, schools, and communities, in order to build social capital and reduce disparities. With such an approach, the FAST program is able to positively impact communities, schools and families alike.

To learn more about the power of social capital, read this blog post.

This post was written in partnership with Dr. Lynn  McDonald, FAST Founder; Emeritus Researcher, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, UW School of Education; Emeritus Professor of Social Work, School of Health and Education, Middlesex University, London, UK.

Works Cited

Institute of Medicine. 2000. From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Megan N. Shoji, Anna R. Haskins, David E. Rangel, Kia N. Sorensen. (2014). The emergence of social capital in low-income Latino elementary schools. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 29(4), pp. 600-613.

Ruth N. López Turley, Adam Gamoran, Alyn Turner McCarty, Rachel Fish. (2017). Reducing children’s behavior problems through social capital: A causal assessment. Social Science Research, 61, pp. 206-217.