Rural social work, the history of which stretches back more than a century, has been revitalized since the mid-1970s. The renewed interest in rural social work has led to an increase in scholarship on rural social work practice, much of which is a direct result of the efforts of the Rural Social Work Caucus and its annual National Institute on Social Work and Human Services in Rural Areas. Recent research endeavors have moved our understanding of the differences between rural and urban communities beyond the common definitions, which are limited to population and population density. We have also come to realize that there are many different types of rural communities, all of which have different characteristics, needs, etc. Specifically, the concept of rural is not monolithic. Rural practitioners and researchers have also reached a better understanding of the following: rural culture and lifestyles, the importance of approaching rural communities from a strengths perspective rather than a deficit or problem focus, and the challenges to rural practice presented by the characteristics that are common across rural communities (e.g., lack of anonymity, dual relationships). Not surprisingly, the increase in research on rural social work practice has been accompanied by an interest in preparing social workers for rural practice and growth in the number of graduate programs focused on such. The importance of these programs lies in the unique nature of the challenges faced by rural communities. For example, many rural communities are experiencing sharp population declines while at the same time seeing substantial increases in adults who are 65 years of age and older. Other common trends include: economic decline and subsequent increase in social issues; substantial issues with substance abuse, especially methamphetamine and opioids; lack of technology infrastructure; concerns related to the environment and/or conversation of natural resources; and lack of services for veterans. The key to successfully addressing these issues in rural communities is involvement from social workers who are prepared to practice in the rural context.
H. Stephen Cooper and Freddie L. Avant
This article examines the role of social workers in rural and remote areas of Australia. The uniqueness of Australia’s landscape, its vast distances, and sparse population base, create unique issues relating to service delivery in general and social work in particular. High levels of poverty, poorer health, lower socio-economic status, and an aging population base typify Australia’s remote areas. Despite these factors, inland regions of the country are subject to economic rationalist policies that make service access problematic. It is in these regions that rural and remote social workers practice. The article outlines the personal, practical, and professional challenges facing social workers and notes the unique opportunities available to workers who choose to live and work in these regions.
Sarah (Hicks) Kastelic
Alaska Natives represent less than 1% of the U.S. population but reside in more than 229 Native villages and account for 40% of federally recognized tribes. Most Alaska Native communities shared common Euro-American contact experiences: exposure to western religions, education, and disease. Historical trauma contributes to many of the social welfare problems Natives experience today: low educational attainment, unemployment, inadequate health care, substance abuse, and violence. Service delivery mechanisms, lack of cultural appropriateness, and isolation compound these pressing issues. Locally delivered social welfare services that take into account traditional Native worldviews, values, languages, and intergenerational relationships are effective in addressing many of these issues.
The profession of social work continues to struggle with the provision of services that must be culturally sensitive to the values and traditions of the people who live in rural neighborhoods and colonias along the U.S.–Mexico border. The diverse populations that live in the border environment are self-reliant and distrust outsiders. This most salient fact creates opportunities for social work programs to adopt the person-in-the-environment approach to assessment. In so doing, the gente (people) in need of services are more apt to feel respected and will facilitate access to their families and communities. The rurality paradigm was developed to provide an understanding of the underlying ideologies of the community first and foremost. Rurality views people’s self-image as constructed by their interactions with each other and the environment. Social work practice in rural areas continues to be at the forefront of both educational and professional concerns. A paradigm shift is advocated to capture the “rurality”- defined lifestyle found along the U.S.–Mexico border of South Texas. This approach provides a more in-depth view of the social interactions necessary for competent, culturally sensitive social work practice.