V. Place-Specific Policy Recommendations

Article excerpt

Policymakers often disregard or are unaware of differences between rural and urban living. Rural residents account for about one-fifth of America's population, (215) but they are frequently invisible or forgotten by law- and policy-makers. (216) As such, the laws and regulations that govern them may reflect urban agendas and be designed for urban contexts. They may thus prove unworkable or inappropriate for families living in rural communities who face different spatial, educational, and economic limitations. (217) Failure to grapple in a meaningful way with the needs of rural people "permits both neglect and romanticization of rural life and livelihoods." (218) in the following sections, we offer specific recommendations for the state's engagements with disadvantaged rural families.

A. Rural Service-Delivery Models

Rural families in distress, particularly those families seeking to meet the requirements for reunification with their children, need access to various ser vices, some or all of which are not available to them. (219) "One-size-fits-all" (220) or "shrink-to-fit" (221) service delivery methods may fail to provide useful resources to needy rural parents. Many implicitly urban service-delivery models will not work in rural communities, even with those delivery models scaled down to serve smaller populations. These failures have cultural and structural components, as rural residents often are unable to engage with urban-designed programs and services that ignore rural realities. (222)

For example, frequent caseworker contact correlates with family reunification, (223) but urban service-delivery models do not consistently lead to increased interaction in rural locales because of spatial obstacles and associated costs. (224) Rural social service staff often must visit families in their homes, (225) many of which are scattered across sparsely populated areas. (226) Staffing shortages and high turnover rates among rural caseworkers further undermine service delivery efficacy when workers are unable to develop relationships of trust that are required to serve a family in distress. (227)

In addition to overcoming spatial barriers, effective service delivery requires caseworkers to understand myriad cultural values, norms, and privacyrelated concerns. For example, the high density of acquaintanceship and associated lack of anonymity that characterize small communities pose barriers to rural caseworker contact. (228) In places where "everybody knows everybody," (229) a family that asks for assistance risks exposing its economic situation, which may result in humiliation, shame, or fear. (230) These and other privacy-related concerns may impede a social worker's ability to maintain contact with a family seeking to avoid embarrassment and community scorn.

Rural cultural values and norms also contribute to rural parents' reluctance to seek outside assistance. (231) Rural sociologists have documented rural residents' tendency to value hard work and self-sufficiency, (232) resist govern mental intrusion, (233) and adhere to patriarchal norms. (234) Such values also may inhibit rural people from availing themselves of public assistance. (235) Rural parents may therefore aggravate grim situations by failing to seek help when they need it. (236)

Home-based models of service delivery, on the other hand, are practical alternatives for rural parents. Urban models tend to offer facility-based services, but rural residents may have difficulty gaining access to them, (237) or they may reject them outright. Home-based or in-home service models offer services outside the confines of a particular facility or place. (238) These models are more practical, private options for rural parents, and studies indicate that home-based service delivery increases the likelihood of reunification. (239) Moreover, utilizing community structures and informal systems of care also improves rural residents' access to services. …