Social work in low trust communities: the informal actor as the crucial link

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation-


The project builds on insights from a study into the role of informal actors (volunteers, civic initiatives, informal caregivers) in a working class neighborhood in Amsterdam-North. Different communities within this neighborhood demonstrate low levels of trust in formal institutions. Formal institutions for their part have difficulty reaching these communities. Professional care providers report ‘under-usage’ of social services in the communities. For communities with migrant backgrounds, under-usage is often related to language and cultural barriers, a culture of shame and a tendency to solve matters within the own community. The second large group in this neighborhood is the white working class community, which manifests a similar lack of trust in institutions. They too experience cultural barriers in accessing formal health and welfare institutions. For social workers to reach these target groups, it is necessary to carefully build relations of trust with residents. At the same time, the transformation of the welfare state coupled with austerity measures result in a pressure on care providers to serve more people in less time. This makes it difficult to build personal and warm relations of trust with clients (Onyx et al 2003).
Our study demonstrates that informal actors successfully step into this void and take on the role of mediator and guide, guiding residents of low trust communities in their navigation of the system world of professional institutions. From a theoretical angle, we argue that different dimensions of social capital are at work in this interplay. Scholars have distinguished between bonding, bridging and linking social capital (eg Szreter and Woolcock, 2004, Gitell and Vidal, 1998). In particular, bonding and linking social capital are useful concepts to understand the processes at work in our study.
Period27 Nov 2018
Event titleShaping Urban Communities and Sustainable Solutions: 3rd International Conference of the Urban Research and Education Knowledge Alliance
Event typeConference
LocationFrankfurt, GermanyShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational