Saturday, October 7, 2023

Going beyond the CALL for rural foster youth

In previous posts, I have addressed the structural barriers to adeqquate rural foster care systems, singling out the shortcomings of generalized child welfare reforms for rural communities and acknowledging the value of previous governmental efforts at rural specific foster care reform. This post turns to the issue of what institutions can do today to prop up these ailing systems with rural children in mind?

An online seach fo current rural child welfare reforms first brought me to "the CALL," which stands for "Children of Arkansas Loved for a Lifetime."

In 2007, Arkansan churchgoers formed the CALL after recognizing the steep barriers to family foster placements, for both the state and potential foster parents. The CALL leverages the pulpit in 45 of Arkansas’s 75 counties to encourage domestic foster adoption, train foster-parents-to-be, and operate offices for county foster care needs. They act as an intermediary between the State and the foster families to break down the bureaucratic, informational, and resource barriers of the foster system.

Between 2007 and 2018, the CALL claims it trained “half of new foster families in [Arkansas] and that families it has trained cared for more than 10,000 children and provided permanent homes for 800.” By all accounts, this is an amazing effort assumed on behalf of the State and Arkansan foster youth.

But this begs the question: should a volunteer group have to shoulder this immense burden?

Moreover, are there reforms that can be established today to set rural child welfare on track? This concern has already been addressed on the blog, from a variety of angles, here, here, and here

The unfortunate reality is that most social work programs, including child welfare, continue to be situated in urban areas and social work training focuses on urban issues, which is a chief concern highlighted by social work scholars Joanne Riebschleger, Debra Norris, Barbara Pierce, Debora Pond, and Cristy Cummings in their 2015 article "Preparing Social Work Students for Rural Child Welfare Practice: Emerging Curriculum Competencies." 

Riebschleger et. al. pave a path for not only acquiring but retaining competent rural child welfare workers.

First, rural issues must be infused into the social work curriculum to bring awareness to the field, its needs, and its challenges. Riebschleger et. al shape rural-specific social work education around the “three R’s,” which entail (1) dealing with increased remoteness, (2) working with lower levels of resources, and (3) putting strong emphasis on relationships.

A great deal of rural child welfare work relies on personal knowledge of the community. Riebschleger et. al. describes lack of anonymity as a tool, through proper knowledge, for effective rural child welfare work: the rural social worker can “engage in informal networks, and they can sometimes make use of informal resources and relationship skills to create resources for clients and families.”

Feasible case plans--that provide rural parents opportunities to succeed--rely on the child welfare worker’s knowledge of both the parents and the community’s resources. It is the case worker’s awareness of and reliance on the community that allow them to be effective in rural settings.

In general, Riebschleger et. al. document competencies for rural child welfare workers that confront rural issues and enable the worker to provide effective and sustainable care in rural communities.

Nevertheless, real hurdles that remain. Riebschleger et. al.’s research found child welfare workers identified professional and geographic isolation, inadequate access to formal community services, traversing dual relationships, multiple job roles, and lack of personal anonymity as major barriers to rural child welfare work. Several of Riebschleger et. al.’s suggestions confront such issues and advise structuring child welfare work around them.

Several barriers to choosing rural child welfare work persist, even for competent child welfare workers. Often, a rural child welfare worker may be the only professional trained in trauma-informed practice (tailoring interactions with an individual in recognition of their trauma and avoiding re-traumatization). They end up being relied upon in other capacities and may need to train other community professionals in this practice.

One solution Riebschleger et. al. posed was for universities to create partnerships with rural organizations and recruit potential social workers from rural areas. Students from rural areas already have an investment in the rural lifestyle and an understanding of the rural social work issues.

Educational institutions should be taking these steps by providing more curricular and clinical opportunities that center around rural issues. Broadening efforts for adequate rural social service workers generally can begin to remedy the persistent lack of services with a stable and competent work force.

In my next post, I hope to identify particular reforms that legal actors, including attorneys, can initiate in the interest of rural child welfare.

1 comment:

Sophie R Radford said...

I think this is a brilliant addition to your previous posts on the foster system and rural children. You've written about a potentially sensitive topic really well.