• Dec 2011/Jan 2012
  • Vol. 12, No. 9

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The Importance of Social Capital for Foster Youth

Social capital refers to the network of social relationships and networks that support healthy development.  Research shows that young people who have strong, positive connections to family and the community are less likely to engage in unhealthy risk-taking and more likely to grow into caring, confident, and competent young adults. Yet, for youth in foster care, developing and maintaining social capital can often be disrupted and hindered. A new issue brief, Social Capital: Building Quality Networks for Young People in Foster Care, looks at sources of social capital and makes recommendations for policy and practice that can support healthy social relationships and networks for youth.

The issue brief identifies four major sources of social capital for young people: family, school, neighborhood, and peers. Frequently, children removed from their families are placed with families or in settings outside their communities, often necessitating changing schools. So, all four areas of social relationship can be disrupted in the course of out-of-home care. Family social capital is especially critical for youth aging out of foster care as the strength of social networks can impact their ability to establish adult relationships and find their place in society.

The brief presents specific recommendations for improving child welfare policy and practice, including:

  • Strengthening family social capital through engaging the youth and family members in case and permanency planning and supporting sibling connections throughout a youth's time in foster care
  • Retaining the social capital developed at school by keeping youth in their original school whenever possible and helping youth who must change school build new social capital
  • Maintaining a youth's community social capital by keeping youth in one community; placing youth in family-based settings; connecting young people with a wide range of adults, such as faith-based or cultural mentors, job mentors, and school counselors
  • Building peer social capital by supporting  healthy connections with peers

The issue brief is number two in a series from the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. It is available on the website:

http://www.jimcaseyyouth.org/sites/default/files/Issue%20Brief%20-%20Social%20Cap.pdf (361 KB)

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