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2007 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 12, No. 3
June 2007

Barriers and Benefits to Working in Rural Areas

In a rural community, everybody knows your business. That can be an unwanted nuisance at times. It can also be a benefit because there is a sense that neighbors, family members, and friends are looking out for one another.

The stigma of being involved with DSS is often a barrier in rural areas. One DSS recently moved into a brand new building that looks and feels much less institutional. What the agency didn’t anticipate is that its client families are sometimes hesitant to enter through the front door because it faces the main road and can be seen by their fellow community members.

A core belief for many rural families is that you don’t ask for help for anything. Families should be able to work and provide with their own hands, they believe. That’s their responsibility, their duty, and community agencies don’t factor in to the equation.

One DSS social worker we spoke with said that families will sometimes wait until they are at a point of desperation with no food on the table for their children, and even then there is resistance to requesting assistance. Agencies sometimes have to work through a third party, most often a relative, to help the family reach a point where they are able to receive help.

Rural settings can also be great places to work, especially since social work in these areas is much more relationship-driven between the agency providers and families as well as between agencies.

“I know the health department director really well so if I have a medical issue or concern I can call her and rest assured I’m going to get an answer,” says Alice Brunson, Children Services Supervisor for Northampton County DSS, serving a county with just over 22,000 in population. “I also know the sheriff really well so if I need backup really quickly I know I don’t have a problem.”

There is a kind of inherent trust that is built between rural agency providers and families that comes with time and experience. In Gates County, families come to programs delivered by people they trust, says Reba Green-Holley, Director of the Gates County Cooperative Extension Service, which offers a range of educational programs geared to farmers, families, and youth.

“They buy into the face that is attached to the program,” says Green-Holley. “It doesn’t matter how great your program looks on paper, if they can’t trust you or feel like you have their best interest at heart, they will not participate in the program. This is rural North Carolina, and the culture is relationships. You have to really show that you care about them as a person.”

Agency providers in rural areas have shown tremendous creativity and a can-do spirit. “We have very few resources and few programs and when a program doesn’t exist, we kind of create it,” says Gloria Braddy, Social Work Supervisor for Bertie County DSS.

Rural agencies are driven by traditional core values such as helping your neighbor, treating others as you want to be treated, and lifting up the community in times of need.

“All people are special and unique,” says Valerie Knight, Director of Action Community Empowerment, a tiny agency with a huge vision in rural Enfield, North Carolina. “I value most of all the comfort that comes when someone has been helped in some way in their area of need or reached a goal. Whatever the issues are, come and let’s work together and see if we can overcome that barrier in our lives and move forth.”


References for this and other articles in this issue