Family Social Capital as a ‘Safety Net’ For Adolescents’ Well-Being: Lessons for Ghana’s Child and Family Welfare Policy

This blog is based on an article in the Journal of Social Policy by Evelyn Aboagye Addae and Stefan Kühner. Click here to access the article.

The notion that the measurement of subjective well-being is key to social policy development has been increasingly acknowledged. Indicators that encapsulate people’s overall mental health and cognitive evaluations of their own lives have expounded a vital aspect of the well-being concept that can be applied to social policies when amassed at the aggregate population level. Crucially, the resulting new policy paradigm has also included a broad move beyond objective measures of young people’s well-being by involving them to explain issues that matter to their well-being in their own voices. In turn, social indicators of quality of life and embracing social determinants of health have more readily been advanced to shape youth policies worldwide. 

While promoting the well-being of young people has been pivotal in Ghana’s Child and Family Welfare Policy (CFWP), policy strategies targeting critical social indicators of quality of life are still largely missing from the policy agenda. Ghana’s CFWP is a component of the Child Protection System (CPS) introduced in 2014 as part of the Ghanaian child and family welfare system to meet the urgent child protection demands arising from the disintegration of social ‘safety nets’ traditionally provided by kinship networks for children from poor families. Whilst some of the policy strategies aimed at increasing families’ material and economic resources are much more specific, the CFWP contains less concrete policy detail on how young people, alongside their families, can be effectively empowered through social dialogue and change. 

By employing a ‘health asset’ approach, our new research has unveiled the potential of family social capital (‘health assets’) to function as a non-monetary ‘safety net’ and suggests how it may contribute to the current child protection efforts of the Ghanaian government. As such, our study prompts the need to revisit existing primacies for social policies by promoting the ‘social fabric’, viz. family social capital within collectivist societies, as a complement to the present emphasis on ‘economic empowerment’ aiming to help young people build resilience against poverty and material deprivation. We argue that policymakers in Ghana should deem family social capital as a critical socioeconomic risk absorber and would be well advised to address complexities regarding the effect of family socioeconomic status and family social capital on young people’s well-being more directly and explicitly, as is currently the case in the CFWP. 

The new evidence derived from a representative sample of 2068 adolescents certainly suggests that from the perspective of subjective well-being, the CFWP’s strategy on enhancing ‘economic empowerment’ through several policy initiatives explicitly formulated to target the monetary challenges experienced by young people and their families is commendable in several ways. There are obvious benefits and gains if more vulnerable families can reduce their economic burden and gain the opportunity to support their adolescent’s financial needs better. However, the importance of ‘economic empowerment’ varies for different dimensions of young people’s subjective well-being, namely life satisfaction and happiness, in the presence of family social capital.

What is more, our findings suggest that subjective well-being among young people in Ghana is not only dependent on material and economic resources but also rests on psychosocial measures such as family social capital, including the family sense of belonging, perceived family social support, family autonomy support, and family control,  which can potentially strengthen adolescents’ resilience to shocks that arise from various environmental stresses including poverty or low family socioeconomic status. More precisely, we find that family social capital moderated the effect of family socioeconomic status on subjective well-being, suggesting family social capital can protect young people against the impact of poor socioeconomic conditions by functioning as a non-monetary ‘safety net’ (or: protective health assets). 

The CFWP recognises explicitly young people as social agents and acknowledges “Empowering Children and Young People” (Strategy 6) in tackling child protection issues and so recommends young people’s participation in decision-making processes at the family level. However, the aim of CFWP has not been fully achieved as the family context is still failing some young people in terms of their socialisation at the family level. Such young people are identified by having low levels of family sense of belonging, perceived family social support, family autonomy support, and experience high family control which harms their ‘social empowerment’ and poses a risk of contributing to social exclusion. These adolescents were also more likely to report low subjective well-being.

Ghana’s CFWP has a vital role in the empowerment of families to build social capital for their children, especially at the early stages of their lives. Families can be empowered through strategies that strengthen the Ghanaian society’s ‘social fabric’ to enable family social capital building and offer an alternative non-monetary ‘safety net’ for promoting child protection in Ghana. Referring to Strategy 7 of the CFWP to “Empower Families Through Social Dialogue and Change”, the current focus on information sharing and community discussions and forums with parents present a practical first step but may ultimately not go far enough if young people are not included in the information sharing/dialogue as they form an integral part of the family and hold vital perspectives about their well-being. 

To conclude, it is encouraging that CFWP aims to improve the economic status and well-being of children and young people in Ghana. However, the lack of emphasis on family social capital (health assets) and subjective well-being of Ghanaian children and adolescents in the CFWP strategies is problematic. Therefore, to further develop Ghana’s CFWP, adolescent ‘social empowerment’ must be accentuated alongside its current focus on enhancing household ‘economic empowerment’ via social protection interventions. Furthermore, in developing the CFWP for the future, social policies should be shaped by a focus on health assets by addressing chronic poverty and material deprivation while promotingsocial investment policies that at the very least do not destabilise society’s social fabric (social capital), especially within young people’s family context. 


About the authors

Evelyn Aboagye Addae is a PhD Student at Lingnan University.

Stefan Kühner is Associate Professor at Lingnan University.

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