The characteristics that define a rural community vary greatly and can be based on population size, population density, distance from a metropolitan center, and other measures. Rural areas have substantial strengths while having less economic wealth, human capital, and physical capital (e.g., buildings, high speed internet) than urban communities. Many rural communities also face challenges such as poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, and lack of education, which are of particular concern because of their link to child maltreatment.
Child welfare professionals working with rural populations should understand these issues and how they affect child welfare practice. Find resources in this section to help understand the challenges faced by child welfare professionals working in rural areas and the strengths of rural communities that can be used to promote child and family well-being and prevent child maltreatment.
- What is rural?
- Understanding rural challenges
- Promoting rural strengths to prevent child maltreatment
What is rural?
Am I Rural?
Rural Assistance Center
Provides a searchable database to help determine if any city or county within a zip code is rural by specific definitions, eligible for specific rural funding, and/or has a health professional shortage designation.
Defining Rural Population
Health Resources and Services Administration
Explains how rural is defined by the United States Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
Presents the classifications of nonmetro counties, including open countryside, rural towns, and urban areas.
Understanding rural challenges
Barriers to Mental Health Treatment in Rural Areas
Rural Health Information Hub
Describes challenges when it comes to receiving mental health care in rural areas and presents links to more information on barriers to care.
Challenges in Providing Substance Use Disorder Treatment to Child Welfare Clients in Rural Communities (PDF - 396 KB)
Clary, Ribar, & Weigensberg (2020)
Summarizes challenges in providing services to parents with substance use issues in rural areas and suggests strategies to improve service access and collaboration.
Health Care Access for Infants and Toddlers in Rural Areas
Laurore, Baziyants, & Daily (2020)
Explores challenges that impact the health of infants and toddlers in rural communities and describes opportunities for professionals working with this population.
Identifying Risks to the Well-Being of Rural Young Children and Families (PDF - 197 KB)
Discusses risks to rural children and families that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic including food and housing insecurity, shortages in childcare options, underreporting of child maltreatment, and inadequate access to health care.
Opioid Use Disorder: Challenges and Opportunities in Rural Communities (PDF - 3,487 KB)
Describes some of the challenges rural communities face when providing access to evidence-based treatment to address opioid use disorder and highlights strategies used by agencies to enhance treatment capacity.
Racial Equity in Rural Areas Is Linked to Poverty [Podcast]
Ho & Bleich (2021)
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Presents an audio interview about how addressing poverty and hunger in rural America can help advance racial equity in these communities.
Rural-Urban Differences in Adverse and Positive Childhood Experiences: Results From the National Survey on Children’s Health (PDF - 468 KB)
Crouch et al. (2022)
Rural & Minority Health Research Center
Examines whether exposure to adverse childhood experiences and positive childhood experiences differs between rural and urban children. Findings showed that rural children were more likely to be exposed to several types of adverse experiences.
Promoting rural strengths to prevent child maltreatment
Child Abuse Prevention Planning in Rural Communities [Video]
Strategies TA (2021)
Presents a video webinar that discusses tools and strategies to build trust with and engage rural families with the goal of preventing child abuse and neglect.
Examining Child Maltreatment Reports Using Linked County-Level Data (PDF - 569 KB)
Smith, Li, & Wang (2021)
Examines how risk and protective factors related to child maltreatment reports compare between rural and urban counties. Findings showed that in rural counties, when opportunities for social association went up, child maltreatment report rates went down, demonstrating the protective effect of relationships.
Mitigating COVID-19’s Rural Impact on Families At-Risk for Violence and Child Maltreatment and Neglect
Summarizes how professionals working with children and families in rural communities experiencing maltreatment and violence are raising awareness and adjusting their work to accommodate the needs of at-risk families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protective Factors Conversation Guides
Child Welfare Information Gateway (2021)
Offers guides for child welfare professionals who want to engage in personalized conversations about protective factors that can help prevent child abuse and neglect.
The Strengths and Challenges of Child Abuse Prevention in Rural Communities [Video]
Strategies TA (2021)
Describes how to address the challenge of child abuse prevention while building on the strengths of rural areas.
What Can Rural Communities Do to Prevent Violence and Abuse?
Rural Health Information Hub
Details how rural communities can work together to prevent and respond to violence and abuse through a coordinated community response. The website shares resources for violence prevention, intervention, and education.