Applications to 21st Century Rural Practice

A Rural West Virginia dwelling (courtesy of
Weinbach states: "As social workers, we are accustomed to helping clients meet their needs - it is our ethical responsibility (Weinbach, 2008)." Imagine creating a productive work environment and helping a client to meet their needs in a setting similar to this. Where would the social worker/ practitioner start? There seem to be so many needs in this picture, what needs would come first and how would we be productive?

Main Entry: ru·ral Pronunciation: \ˈrr-əl\Function: adjectiveEtymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin ruralis, from rur-, rus open land — more at roomDate: 15th century
: of or relating to the country, country people or life, or agriculture
\r-ˈra-lə-tē\ noun
\ˈrr-ə-lē\ adverb

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Graphic courtesy of

The term rural is usually used to refer to an area that is some distance from a city, however not all rural areas are the same, just like people they each have their own unique qualities with various strengths and needs.
Because of isolation rural social work organizations lack:

§ Valuable Resources
§ Technological Advancements
§ Specialized Services
§ Professional Development
§ Economic Stability
(Pohl, 1999, pp.36-44)

Valuable Respurces: Deficites in valuable resources make creating and maintaining a productive work environment challenging for social service organizations in rural communities. How do rural communities overcome these challenges in order to meet the needs of the clients?Rural social work practice is most effective when it incorporates an emphasis on connections, community, and culture. Rural communities can do this by:
§ Organization must make efforts to form relationships
§ Organization must build trust in the community
§ Organizations must participate with the community
§ Organizations must focus on the strengths of the community
§ Organizations must incorporate multi-level system of management
§ Organization must understand cultural competency
§ Organizations must evaluate outcomes of practice
(Riebschleger, 2005, pp. 109-122)

Technological Advancements: Rural areas are also slow to incorporate improvements in technology. Technology is impoartant and valuable in the work we do because it can help to increase productivity. For Social Service Organizations can benefit from technology by:

§ Management of the agency- filing, record, keeping, and organization
§ Management of cases- tracking, case notation, and time management
§ Research for current policy, planning , and trends of the organization
§ Improving direct service to clients by- diagnostic tools, assessments, and intake
§ Access to training tools via internet, phone, and teleconference
§ Reduces isolation of workers and clients by providing a larger network
(Davenport, 1999, pp. 45-58)

Specialized Services: One way that rural areas can increase specialized services is for agencies to form collaborations with each other to broaden service delivery. A good example of this in West Virginia is the Early Childhood Education collaborations that have formed across the state begining in 2001. The West Virginia Early Childhood Community Collaboration Stategies 10/2001 has been inluded here to provide backgound information about a successful collaboration in West Virgina.

Professional Development: This can be done by providing staff with opportunities for continuing education however this can be challenging in rural areas as well because:

  • Shortage of professionals
  • Distance to training facilities, programs, universities, ect.
  • Opportunities available for training
Economic Stability is also weak in rural areas because:
  • Lack of industry and development
  • Lack of funding and programs
  • Lack of federal and state funding to rural areas
  • Lack of infrastructure to support gowth

Rural Social Work
This video has been included to help demonstrate the power of motivation and what great things can be done when people are motivated to empower others to make changes. This video reminded me that people are motivated by different things and for different reasons. For example what is motivating the client may be very different than what is motivating the worker. The client in this example may be motivated by needing to get their basic needs met however the worker may be motivated by self-actualization or the need for achievement.
This video take place in Honduras, which is considered a developing country far from the United States, in distance and development. However, it is important for rural social workers to understand that correlations can be made between rural areas and, "third world," countries. In the US there is a biase toward urban policies and programs which leaves rural communities with problems that are not addressed such as: cycles of poverty, unemployment, and loss of family farms or businesses. As the world becomes more urbanized, rural communities face greater hardships and economic concerns. This same phenomenon can be found in developing countries (Pohl, 1999, Pp.31-33).

People served in West Virgnina
This link has been included to provide information about the demographics and population of cleint in West Virginia.

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Graphic courtesy of

Dual Relationships in Rural Social Work Practice
Dealing with potential for dual relationships is a necessary part of rural social work practice and management. As Weinbach (2008) notes competition and conflict will always be a part of work enviornments. In rural practices this issues are also likely to carry over into the multiple social arenas illustrated below. Galambos etal (2005) states that "essentially rural social workers are never off duty within their communities since they often live and work in the same town causing professional and personal relationships to blend".

As Galambos etal (2005) notes in illustration below, potential dual relationships exsist in many areas associatied with rural practice.




Business Transactions
client-owned or client-employed businesses
grocery store, gas station, bank, farm implement store, telephone and electrical companies
Community committees or clubs
worker-client joint affiliation and memberships
Parent Teacher Association (PTA), gardening and quilting clubs, 4-H, American Legionnaires, and Rotary club
Community events
community-wide participatory activities
fund raisers, parades, celebrations, dances, and dinners
Social events
activity attendance that supports community members
athletic events, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, sporting events, hunting and fishing activities
Residence location
geographical proximity between client and worker
same neighborhood
Organizational location
attendance at the same organizations
schools, hospitals, and places of worship
Social and friendship networks
mutual worker-client social networks
spouses/partners, children, relatives, and friends
Incidental occurrences
addressing each other in public places
greetings on the sidewalk
Graphic courtesty of Calambos, etal (2005)

Work Environment

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Graphic courtesy of

Work Environment is a term used to describe the surrounding conditions under which an employee operates. The work environment can be composed of physical conditions such as office temperature or equipment such as personal computers. It may also be related to things such as work processes or procedures.
The work environment may also involve the social interactions at the workplace including interactions with peers, subordinates and managers. Generally, and within limits, employees are entitled to a work environment that is free from harassment. A
**hostile work environment**exists when unwelcome sexual conduct interferes with an employee's job performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment.