Rural social workers face own set of challenges

Jul 6, 2015

By social worker Kristin Battista-Frazee, News contributor

The National Rural Social Work Caucus has a sense of humor about joining their group.

Social workers who practice in rural areas face challenges different from their counterparts in urban-based cities. Some of these include less pay, limited access to specialty services and dealing with crisis situations more often, because prevention and early intervention services are not readily available.

Their membership page poses questions such as “What kind of tractor do you own?” to gauge if you have kinship with their cause.

All jokes aside, the caucus well understands that despite the charm of quiet life in the country, social workers practicing in isolated areas face more complex challenges than their counterparts in urban cities.

Social workers in rural communities are paid less, have limited access to specialty services and deal with crisis situations more often, because prevention and early intervention services are not readily available.

There are many people who need services too, with nearly 50 million Americans (17 percent) living in rural areas, and too few practitioners to adequately serve rural populations.

Eighty percent of social workers are employed in metropolitan areas, and large states have a relatively low number of licensed social workers per capita. Furthermore, there are 2,157 health professional shortage areas in rural and frontier areas as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sam Hickman, secretary of the caucus and executive director of the NASW West Virginia Chapter, said even though the caucus has had some success in keeping rural culture at the forefront of people’s minds, “ … it’s a continuing battle.”

“We want people to look at rural issues in the same way as minority issues, like a specialized practice,” he said.

One of these issues is the dual relationship — or having more than one relationship with a client, Hickman said.

“If you’re one of only a few practitioners in an area that people have to turn to for help, you’re bound to run into them or their children and relatives at the grocery store,” he said.

The caucus successfully influenced urban colleagues to better understand the cultural aspects of dual relationships in rural communities during a revision of the NASW Code of Ethics, Hickman said.

It was recognized that dual relationships are common, sometimes unavoidable and maybe even helpful in small towns.

From the July 2015 NASW News. Read the full story here.