In order to enhance the effectiveness of rural child welfare caseworkers and supervisors in North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has developed the Rural Success Project, a comprehensive intervention focusing on the following components:
- A multimodule competency-based training course for rural child welfare supervisors and caseworkers
- A series of agency and community engagement dialogs
- A series of summits for rural child welfare professionals
As a first step, project staff engaged community members to assess strengths and challenges. They conducted focus groups in each of the 14 counties selected for the project and invited individuals and families to share their stories. One of the major themes that emerged was a desire for rural communities to share information about what they are doing well. However, they often were missing the concrete performance information they needed to illustrate their success. As part of its response to this finding, project staff researched and analyzed county-level information, including rural county Child and Family Services Review outcomes. Through this process, they discovered that rural communities perform just as well, if not better, than their urban counterparts on some outcome areas.
Project staff then developed trainings and electronic learning courses in response to what they learned through the assessment process. One training curriculum, "Working With Outcomes by Building on Partnerships," was designed to assist supervisors in tracking and evaluating outcomes. Surveys administered before and after trainings were used to evaluate changes in knowledge and skills but also to gather additional information on how rural communities could achieve outcomes comparable to metropolitan areas when they have fewer resources available.
One innovative part of the project's data collection process focused on collecting audio stories and photographs from the 14 counties that depict how rural families perceive their own strengths and challenges. This process introduced project staff to a network of informal systems of care within these communities and helped them to understand how families and communities were succeeding in rural North Carolina. These stories and photographs also were used to develop a powerful video about the challenges and strengths of rural North Carolina families.
Adapted from Children's Bureau Express, July/August 2008, "Building on the Strengths of Rural Child Welfare Practice in North Carolina" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/index.cfm?event=website.viewArticles&issueid=96§ionid=1&articleid=2134).