Practicing Rural Social Work, by Paul Force-Emery Mackie, Kimberly Zammitt, and Michelle Alvarez, Chicago, IL, Lyceum Books, ISBN: 978-1-933478-71-5, 2016, 158 pages, $32.95.
Force-Emery Mackie, Zammitt, and Alvarez have written a comprehensive book about the complexities of practicing rural social work. The authors explore the challenges, and inherent strengths, from the perspective of the client and the social worker. Historically, the intricacies of rural social work practice have been overlooked.
On a micro level, residents of a rural community face an array of barriers that can easily become overwhelming. Residents are geographically, socially, and economically isolated and are also at increased risk of being diagnosed with a substance abuse or mental health disorder. Residents are noted to lack accessible public transportation and are at increased risk of unemployment. The authors note significant disparities with regard to accessing mental health, substance abuse, and health care services. These barriers are significantly amplified by poverty, which is prevalent in the rural community.
At a macro level, rural communities often lack the economic diversity, as well as the natural and human capital and resources, to create and sustain change. This is further compounded by geographic isolation and the tendency for many youth to migrate to a more urban area. This often means rural communities remain stagnant despite the need for advocacy, advancement, and change.
Social workers are likely to face professional isolation and ethical challenges related to confidentiality, privacy, and dual relationships more frequently than their urban community counterparts. To be an effective social worker in a rural community, the authors assert practitioners must develop a genuine appreciation for the rural way of life, embrace the community’s culture, and demonstrate a long-term commitment to the betterment of the people and the community as a whole.
Because of the unique challenges faced in rural communities, interventions must be culturally relevant and employed within an accepted context. The book identifies best practice models of intervention for the rural community. Interventions must focus on the interactions within and among the systems that surround residents of the rural community. Interventions must also center on the inherent strengths of the community and promote mutual assistance, as well as enriching the available resources.
Social workers must be well-versed in a generalist practice model and utilize the inherent community supports and informal networks to supplement the gaps in formalized services. Social workers must be creative and savvy when coordinating services, to avoid unnecessary duplication and help the community to create and sustain positive change through the linkage of services.
This book is written in an accessible manner and is important to the field of social work. The authors offer concrete ideas to assist students, social workers, and community action agents in advocating for this population on micro, mezzo, and macro levels. This book is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about rural populations and is framed in a relatable manner. The book provides real-life case examples that can aid in classroom discussion, as well as cultivate a deeper appreciation of the nuances faced when practicing in a rural context.
Reviewed by Dana Holcomb, MSW, social work faculty, Ferris State University.