Unit 1: What is Rural Social Work?

Please answer the following questions:

Differentiate “rural” from “urban” by describing 5 characteristics unique to rural communities. How is rural social work practice is different from urban practice? Identify 3 challenges unique to rural practice.

16 thoughts on “Unit 1: What is Rural Social Work?

  1. Emily Arnick

    The two major differences between rural and urban communities are the population and location of the community.

    Five characteristics which are unique to rural communities are:
    1. Detachment from other communities
    2. Lower population
    3. Less variety with regard to goods and/or services
    4. Limited amount of resources
    5. Tragedy can affect the entire community because everyone knows each other

    Three challenges which are unique to a rural social work practice:
    1. High probability of running into someone you’ve assisted at the grocery store or post office, etc. There is also a chance that you are friends or acquaintances with someone you have assisted or are assisting.
    2. May not have access to certain types of treatment, i.e. there isn’t an in-patient treatment center or psychiatrist within 250 miles, etc.
    3. Limited amount of resources, i.e. housing, childcare, etc.

  2. Crystal

    “Unit 1: What is Rural Social Work?”

    Five characteristics that are unique to rural communities is their remote location, tribal, social, and community rules that may conflict with the widespread social norms and rules of urban communities, the educational system in the rural communities is unique and how they educate their children versus in the urban communities. What they deem as important to teach them and how they teach them may not be the same as in the urban educational system. Limited resources are another unique characteristic that occurs in the rural communities that many of the urban communities may not have to deal with. Because resources are limited in some of the more remote rural locations poverty is a major consideration dealing with rural communities. Ethnic diversity is also unique in more rural communities because in rural communities you have more cultures that are the same versus in a more urban communities where there is a more diverse population and the last characteristic that is unique to rural communities is that the stability of the people in that community. In a rural community people move around more than in an urban community because they have may have to move to find work, food or stay connected to their tribe.
    Rural social work is very different than urban social work because in society we usually adapt our learning, resources, and teaching to the majority and seeing that the rural community makes up only 18%-22% of America (Pugh & Cheers, 2010) it is safe to say that we focus more on our urban communities than our rural communities. The Social Work profession has tried to be more culturally sensitive and adapt to learning more about rural communities and to me it shows by The University of Fairbanks offering a class for their Social Work majors. Although we know challenges exist, we see that more can be done to adapt to our rural communities and better serve them.
    One challenge that is unique to the “rural” communities verses the “urban” is in the rural community is they do not have as many social services professionals like in the urban communities. Those that work in the rural communities may only have limited to no education unlike in the urban communities most have at least their bachelor’s, master’s or even a doctorate. When schools teach them, many times they create a curriculum that is tailored toward urban communities and very few schools create or even teach a curriculum that is for a rural community. Another challenge that is unique to the “rural” communities verses the ‘urban” is in small rural communities confidentiality because an issue because in a rural community everyone knows everyone and many times those that serve in the social work field also see their clients around their community. Making it more difficult not to discuss or talk about confidential materials with others or even the client themselves outside of the workplace. Unlike in the urban communities were relationships are not so close because many time the communities that social workers work in is not the same communities that they live in. The last unique challenge that a rural community encounter is a lack of outside resources to refer a client to when the need for outside resources occur. In urban communities when outside resources and referrals are needed those can be made without hesitation because they are accessible to a larger urban community.

  3. ambarkdull

    The two main factors that differentiative social work practice in urban areas and rural communities are location and population. Individuals in rural communities face many challeneges that differ from those faced by individuals living in urban areas. Individuals living in rural are separated from the general population of urban communities which often leaves them with less access to resources and essential services. For instance, if an individual breaks there leg but the nearest hospital or clinic is 300+ miles away, this could be considered a struggle unique to a rural community. Additionally, there are issues with confidentiality due to a small population size in rural communities. For instance, if and individual is working with the Office of Children’s Services, or Tribal Family and Youth Services (TFYS) and the TFYS worker happens to be an aunt or cousin, this may be a cause concern. While this type of dual relationship is still possible in urban communities, it is more often seen in rural communities. Lastly, rural communities, generally speaking, have less access to social services and have limited resources. As stated above, there are many seeminly simple and essential services that we are privileged to in urban communities such as hospitals and clinics that those in rural communities do not have access to. With that being said, all of the above factors pose special challeneges for a social worker or helping professional working in rural communities.

  4. Jenn Wheeler

    5 Unique Characteristics of a Rural Community:

    – Availability of public transportation
    – Diminished education, social and material wellbeing
    – The lack of anonymity and risk of being seen or caught
    – Higher living cost due to the lack of resources and ability to receive them
    – Higher poverty rates with minimal community resources to correct the matters

    Difference between Urban and Rural

    Urban social work can be described as being composed in a formalized setting usually one on one or in group sessions. Confidentially is kept and not usually an issue due to the larger population of the area and there are various providers and specified clinicians that can focus in on problem areas verse the rural setting that one provider must handle all people and settings. Services in Urban areas also tend to cost less which has a lot to with the availability to multiple clinicians. Rural social work focuses on a smaller population, usually in a geographical location that is not convenient to other major services or heavily populated areas. A clinician in a rural setting has to be able to be sensitive and understand the particular cultures and needs of the rural setting and be able to adapt to meet the needs of their clientele.

    Three Challenges

    Some of the challenges of rural social workers are that the social workers have to work with little to no support from other medical professionals and sometimes from the community as well.

    Social workers in a rural setting are also faced with the challenge of rural community’s expectations on social work and mental health. Some communities would prefer a community based behavioral health system that allows elders, spiritual advisors and other long term residents of the community to be involved in the social workers aspect. This can be challenging due to the fact that it is not always “taught” during schooling.

    Working in a rural community one is faced with the challenge of being a provider and also being part of the community as a member. Your patients have to learn to trust and respect you, all while keeping the proper distance to maintain the professional standard.

  5. iaehret

    Five characteristics that differentiate between an urban community and a rural community are:
    1. Geography: Includes the physical location of the community and pattern of settlement, remoteness of the community and its landscape and how travel happens within that community
    2. Demographics: Include population that lives within the community. Ethnicity and diversity of a community are characteristics of its population along with age and family patterns.
    3. Economy: Changes within economics have impact within community; it has social political and material repercussions in rural settlements. Economy impacts employment and population numbers within rural communities.
    4. Political and Structural Dimensions: Local government of a community, how it’s organized along with services that are set up within a community.
    5. Community: Not all communities are single communities; there may be several groups within one community. A sense of identity that is bound together population by association, shared relationships or common interests.
    How is rural social work different from urban social work?
    Rural social work practices can be considered one or more of the characteristics listed it also requires being more culturally aware than urban practice would. Social Workers would need to understand that way the rural community functions and how the population functions within that community. Confidentiality of clients is better kept within an urban community where as within a rural community the chances of knowing clients are higher. Services offered within an urban community aren’t always readily available within a rural community. Getting the services that are required for a client may mean traveling miles due to the location of the community.
    Three Challenges of Rural Practice:
    1. Getting the clients the help and services that are needed. Rural community locations can making getting the assistance that clients need extremely difficult. The further rural communities are from urban communities the more the amounts of services provided are limited.
    2. Separating personal life from that of a professional one. Working within a rural community means there is a larger possibility of interactions with people you work with. Giving a feeling of being on the job twenty four seven, leading to burn out and little self-care.
    3. Being culturally aware, rural communities within Alaska are for the majority Native Alaskan communities. They may have cultural traditional that we may not understand or recognize. Their way of doing things may be different from what we think we know, by becoming culturally aware we can better understand the traditions of a rural community and better understand the needs the community may have.

  6. rmoto1

    Five things that differentiate rural from urban are the characteristics of lower population, isolation from other communities, a sense of security since nearly everyone knows one another, nearness to wilderness areas, and a lack of services compared to what is offered in urban areas. Rural social work practice is different from an urban practice because you have to have a good general knowledge of alot of areas while in an urban setting you are expected to specialize and refer people out to other specialists. Another thing that makes rural practice different is the social dynamics that may be going on in rural communities- you have to know which families don’t get along with other families, some communities may be wary of getting help from outsiders while other communities may welcome an “unbiased” outsider in some sticky situations. There are ways to deal with distances such as telebehavioral health services where a client and village based provider may be video conferencing with a doctor or psychiatrist hundreds of miles away to deal with issues such as medicatin management and prescriptions. Three challenges of rural social work practice are keeping clear boundaries in a community where you may live right next to someone who is a client, confidentiality in a community where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and the problem of distance between the clients and services they may need.

  7. Rebekah Kinder

    There are many characteristics that differentiate a rural area from an urban area. Rural areas are typically smaller in size in regards to population that urban areas. There are usually less community resources and activities in a rural area, less access to medical care, higher education, entertainment, etc. Rural areas are classifies as rural sometimes due to their distance from larger metropolitan areas or their inaccessibility due to their location (geographical obstacles). Rural areas tend to have a higher cost of living than urban areas, especially in Alaska. Rural communities also tend to be more intimate, wit a greater likelihood that people are going to know your private business.
    Rural social work is different from urban social work in many ways. One of the main ways is that rural social workers do not have as much access to resources as urban social workers do. As a rural social worker it is much more likely that you will be faced with a conflict of interest, i.e. your client is a parent of one of your child’s friends. Another aspect unique to rural social work is that the clientele that you might encounter is probably less culturally diverse than you would find in an urban area, for example in Fairbanks you probably encounter a diverse mixture of clientele, while in Savoonga a rural community, the population is almost entirely made up of American Indians and Native Alaskans.

  8. rlgloversr

    5 characteristics that unique from rural to urban
    1.) Rural areas experience higher rates of unemployment and continual unemployment.
    2.) Government, health, and social services are based on urban models that fail to adapt to rural needs or problems.
    3.) Rural areas have more landmass that creates difficulties in distance and time of travel.
    4.) The absence of public transportation in rural areas halts clients from reaching out to different social services.
    5.) Recruitment and retention issues are in part developed mainly from urban roots that pay little attention to rural problems.
    How rural social work practice is different from urban practice?
    People in rural areas experience lower income levels, higher unemployment, and poverty rates than people in urban areas. However, public assistance utilization rates are lower because it lacks access to program information that have a stigma to public assistance in rural areas. Children in rural areas who are born poor are more likely than urban children to maintain in poverty during their life time. Moreover, rural children in female households are at greater risk of persistent poverty.
    Identify 3 challenges unique to rural practice
    1.) Small areas cause confidentially complications that involve locality- based community development that maintain a professional distance from the community.
    2.) Residential rural areas can be judgmental towards clients and services that may reflect cultures and lifestyle differences from community norms.
    3.) Most social workers receive little training in rural social problems in which creates a major barrier to develop the professional social work labor force that is needed to address the unique problems of rural areas.

  9. rmorris11

    In looking at rural social work and urban there are many similarities and differences.
    1. A difference I think that I can see in a small/rural community is it is hard to keep persomal life and work life seperate. You can see the same people you work with in the grocery store or on the street and they may want to discuss their case or something going on with them. Keeping that personal and professional relationship seperate is hard.
    2. The tools at your disposal for helping a small/rural community can be harder to come by. Smaller communities may not have all the necessary programs to help families. In my community we did not have foster care homes for children a few years ago and they would be sent to Denver for foster care. This made it hard on the children and the families tring to work things out.
    3. Another difference is that smaller communities tend to have a more sense of community. A few years ago here in Gunnison there was a fire that killer two college students, there were no fire/smoke detectors in the house. This made a few changes in the community one was that churches and the fire department here got ogether and went door to door to make sure everyone had a fire /smoke detector and the batteries were good. This also made a change in policy here that every home rented must have smoke/fire detectors.
    4. Policy in small/rural communities is more known and on the front page. You can talk to your council person in person pretty much whenever you see them. If a change is wanted or needed it can be easier to get that message out.
    5. Making sure that someone who is seeking help feels like they can have your confidence and their situation will not be known by everyone in town. This can be hard because more than likely someone could drive by seeinga girl going to the health department and report back to parents. In turn if the parents know you work their and they see you they could ask what their daughter was doing their. This can be hard and if you are friends with the parents that can be even harder.

    In looking at how rural social work is different from urban I think the the points I discussed before can apply to this area but there are other issues that could be hard. Working in small/rural communities can be trying to a social worker especially if they come from a big city where everything is available and is usually a lot cheaper. Culture shock can happen in a rural community. You come to accept that prices are higher in the grocery store and that you will see the same people all the time. It requires more searching for programs and grant writing to get those. Smaller communities have less tax dollars usually and programs are chosen by what is shown to work. If you want to introduce a new program that you know works you have to pursue that and show people it works. Another difference would be case load smaller communites means smaller case loads.
    Three challenges to rural social work.
    1. People know who you are in the community. They know who works for child services and they may not like that. I know here that is hard, judgement on what you do and the misconception of splitting up families can follow you in the community.
    2. Funding resources within the community and making sure the ones that are available are working.
    3. Realizing that within the community there are other communities. Here we hispanic communities and even those are broken down into two different communities with different cultures. You have to realize that not every rural community is made up of the same group of people.

  10. jzollman

    Five differences between rural and urban social work are:
    Location – although the definition of rural has many possible definitions, one of them is that rural is anything not urban.
    Demographics – Rural communities are less populated although rural communities may vary in population from a few hundred to several thousand or more. Urban communities are much more diverse with smaller communities within larger communities and the availability of support from these groups is greater. Rural populations are often below the national average salary, may predominantly represent a single ethnicity or culture whereas urban settings may offer more employment opportunities and also provide a niche for particular ethnic groups and cultures.
    Transportation – there is often little or no public transportation in rural communities causing members of the community to rely on themselves, others, or private transportation in order to travel. This is often expensive and prohibitive to accessing social services and other assets available in urban communities. Urban communities often have public transportation services or even local services that can easily be reached on foot.
    Lack of Social Services – Even with the few social services that may be available, those services have fewer resources from which to draw in order to offer assistance to those in need. Obviously urban settings provide an array of social service offerings, both private and public. There are many more resources from which social workers can draw in order to provide assistance to meet the needs of those with whom they work.
    Lack of anonymity – In small communities the lack of anonymity may cause its own problems in that you may commonly run into clients and or others related to your cases; this may also cause some social anxiety because your clients may be reluctant to expose themselves because of a perceived lack of privacy or concerns about confidentiality. There is much more privacy in an urban setting because of the unlikelihood that you would run into a client in your everyday life.
    Three challenges for rural social work might be:
    Lack of community resources – There might be fewer community assets from which to draw in order to serve clients adequately. (For example: in my community, where there is a high rate of alcohol and drug use, services for those who need to perform court ordered alcohol training are non existent or not regularly scheduled. As a result some have to travel over 200 miles for alcohol training, or choose not to attend, aggravating their court sentences.)
    Another issue for rural social work is for the social worker to not arrive from outside the community with preconceived ideas. The reason rurality is so hard to define is because every rural community has its own identity. It is definitely better to arrive, listen, and establish relationships. Learn what works well, what has been tried and failed. Ask questions and get the input of the community where you work.
    A third important challenge for rural social workers might be how to work within a community in order to build relationships from which to draw in order to make up for the lack of resources the community endures.

  11. hlhelfrich

    Five differences between rural and urban social work:
    1: Access to resources is limited and clients in need would have to leave the community in order to get the aid they require.
    2: Getting basic transportation for clients to meet with a social worker can be difficult in a rural area that has no roads and relies on snow machine, dog sled, or any other form of transportation that is not in the norm for cities.
    3: Working in a rural community would be hard to keep work and personal life separate, due to the fact that the community is small and a worker is going to have a client that they know on a personal level.
    4: Social services are based on urban models that do not properly work for rural communities.
    5: Being in a rural community has it’s advantages because everyone knows everyone and can provide comfort during hard times and as a community people can come together.
    3 challenges:
    1: Workers are not prepared for living a rural life style and more often than not, can not handle living isolated.
    2: Community members have a hard time accepting outsiders and it takes time to build rapport and trust from community members that a person may not face working in an urban environment.
    3: Lack of resources, if a person needs aid they will have to travel out of the village and sometimes out of state.

  12. dbjoseph

    5 characteristics unique to rural communities
    1. Smaller communities
    2. Harder to obtain outside resources
    3. The location of the community maybe less accessible (only able to get there by boat or plane)
    4. More likely to have persistent poverty rather than economical poverty
    5. More likely to have dual relationships

    3 challenges unique to rural practice

    Rural social work practice is different from urban practice due to majority of the time there is a lack of properly trained or qualified social workers who have little or no supervision support. Confidentiality is harder to maintain and social workers in rural areas are more likely to break the NASW code of ethics. Rural social workers may have a harder time being accepted into the community because people know what the job of a social worker is and may not want to be seen with that person due to others may think that they are receiving services also. The same also goes for community members may not seek assistance from social workers because the size of the community it will most likely get out that they are receiving services and they are worried what will be said about them.

  13. lmdemientieff

    Thanks everyone for commenting! The point of this assignment is really to say their are some unique and important differences in being a rural social worker vs. an urban social worker. One important thing to remember is that rural communities vary from community to community, none are the same. It is very contextual, you have to consider the geography, the culture, the politics, the community, the access, economics, etc. It will always be different so getting to know your community in the context it exists is important.

  14. AceStett

    Unit 1: What is Rural Social Work?

    5 Characteristics that differentiate between urban and rural communities:

    1. Location may be harder to access due to remote location, hills, mountains, forests, river valleys, extreme climate, lack of a road system etc.
    2. Small populations. This may make it difficult to keep your work and home life separate.
    3. Cost of living. Often in rural communities the cost of living is much higher due to the difficulty of bringing in resources.
    4. Rural areas often have a lack of employment opportunities. Often the employment they do have is seasonal.
    5. There is often a lack of adequate educational opportunities in rural communities.

    I just wanted to make a point that many urban areas struggle with some of the same issues such as a lack of quality education or a lack of employment opportunities. However, the source or cause of the problem is different

    3 Challenges unique to rural Social Work practice:

    1. There is often a lack of resources in rural communities. For example: in Barrow, if someone needs residential treatment for drugs or alcohol, they would have to leave the North Slope and seek services in Anchorage, Fairbanks, or the lower 48.
    2. You are often required to have dual relationships. You may have a client that is also a friend or family member.
    3. Often, as a Social Worker, you are required to “wear many different hats”. Social workers in rural communities often have to fill several different roles due to a lack in resources within the community.

  15. Ashley Westmoreland

    5 characteristics that are unique to rural communities
    1) In rural communities there can be many physical obstacles in the way of travel, such as mountains, rivers, dense forests, etc. This makes it harder for public transportation to be available, so instead rural community members usually rely on private transportation to get to school or work. Rising fuel prices and other costs of owning a vehicle have hit rural communities hard though. This makes it harder for people to use their cars so freely, not allowing them to get access to services.
    2) Generally in rural areas the range of ethnic diversity tends to be smaller. Also in many places the number of people from ethnic minority groups is smaller compared to the number in diverse urban areas.
    3) The living standard of people in rural communities diminish the farther away they are from larger population centers, generally. This is in regards to health, education, social and material well-being. There are many reasons for this including higher prices for goods and services, decreased or more distant social and support networks, and reduced opportunities for participating in the wider society
    4) It is also more difficult to provide services and places to access them if a rural community is sparsely populated and has dispersed settlement patterns. This is especially difficult if there are not efficient modes of transportation and road systems are non-exsistent or unreliable.
    5) During the 20th century agriculture and other primary industries as a source of employment, decline in most industrialized countries. There are many reasons for this decline,
    -Farms becoming larger and more specialized led to decline in need of rural labor.
    -Farms requiring more borrowing which leaves them more vulnerable to increases in interest rates, production costs, and declining commodity prices.
    -Consumer preferences changing leading to decline in some agricultural products.
    These and other factors have led to decline in population of rural areas.

    3 challenges to rural practice
    1)Rural social workers must keep in mind that each rural settlement and community are different from each other. Social workers and their agencies should make their own analysis of the local context to see what works for that particular settlement or community.
    2) When working in a rural setting social workers should understand that the decisions that have the greatest impact on rural areas are those made in community and business fields, not in welfare agencies. So social workers and their agencies should make sure they have a professional knowledge of the local
    3) It is harder to keep confidentiality in smaller communities. It can also be inappropriate for a social worker to remain professionally distant from clients. Rural social workers may be expected by the community to participate in community activities and to establish trust among the community members.

  16. bnbinkowski

    The major differences between rural and urban would be the location and the population of the communities.
    People who live in rural communities face many different challenges. They are often pretty far away from resources and essential services that people who live in urban areas take for granted. Usually people who live in rural communities tend to pay more and their cost of living is more then for the people who live in urban areas. This is because it is harder for the rural communities to receive their resources and everyday necessities, so they have to charge more in order to make any profit. Usually rural communities have less people, or their population is smaller then urban areas would be. People in rural communities tend to know each other more personally then people who live in urban areas. People in rural areas usually will know a large majority of the people living in their community, so it tends to be a lot harder to keep those embarrassing events that no one wants to tell people. Also there is a lot less protection for people, either when they are talking to the police and making a complaint or sometimes even when they are seeing a counselor or talking tot someone who is suppose to keep their comments confidential.

    Rural social workers may face more problems with conflict of interest. Their main problem is not only being a great social worker and helping their community, but also learning to live in their community and learn to keep their personal life and their work life separate.
    They may also may face some problems with the distances of their clients, especially when the communities are miles apart and usually one of the main ways to go from community to community in rural alaska is by flying.
    Rural social workers also tend to face less diversity then those who work in urban areas. For example a rural social worker in Alaska may spend the majority of their time with Alaskan Natives and spend less time with people of a different ethnicity.

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