Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Effective rural practice

GCASA serves primarily two rural counties, Genesee and Orleans between two major metropolitan areas in Western New York State, Rochester and Buffalo. There was and interesting article in the Families In Society journal in April - June, 2007, Vo. 88, #2, entitled Social Workers' Suggestions for Effective Rural Practice by Joanne Riebshleger.

Here are some of the interesting ideas in the article.

There is a sense of a "rural divide", that is there is "The City" and then there is the country. Here at GCASA students from Buffalo don't want an internship in Batavia or Albion because "it's way out there" when in reality we are only 35 minutes from downtown Rochester and downtown Buffalo.

There are higher rates of poverty and scarcer formal resources but people tend to help each other out more in informal networks.

There is a slower pace of community and change. People are a little more "set in their ways."

Everything is connected and everybody tends to know everybody or "know of" everybody. This makes it a little more difficult to create professional boundaries and to avoid dual relationships.

Professional relationships tend to be "closer" and "more personal" which can make the access to service easier and sometimes more psychologically intimidating. Because of the closeness of relationships, we often see people who can afford it, commute from the community for service while poorer people, who do not have that option, must deal with the perceived shame of asking for services in their own community jeopardizing their anonymity.

There is a greater geographical span to access services and transportation is often a problem. Often professionals feel a bit more isolated because there is not so much collegial support close by.

There is an "insider group" status given to professionals who have local connections. Without that it is more difficult for "outsiders" to obtain trust and credibility.

There is a stigma attached to rural people and practice as not being as current, up to date, or as good as what is available in the city. "I'm just a country boy." "I'm not as smart as those professionals in the big city." is a common feeling and perception. Services delivered in cities are perceived as being higher quality and more expert.

Advocating for social justice in rural areas may be more difficult because of local politics and local norms and attitudes which are perpetuated by community gatekeepers who have a vested interest in the status quo and who distrust outsiders who they perceive as "coming in and trying to change things."

Working in rural communities can be very rewarding as well as challenging. Rural communities while "more political" in some ways also are less bureaucratic so it is easier to meet and develop relationships with key community leaders. In some ways in rural communities problems are easier to solve because the human dimension is on a smaller scale.

If you would like a copy of the article, email me at dmarkham@gcasa.org and I will send one to you.

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