Masters Thesis

Challenges that lead rural families to child welfare

Involvement with systems like Child Welfare Service (CWS) can occur through various forms such as poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health. People from rural communities face additional adversities leading to mistreatment and neglect by society, which can ultimately reflect on the neglect or abuse towards their own children. These challenges include fewer resources compared to urban areas, lack of transportation, geography, and barriers for best practices. To better understand the essence of experiencing rural child welfare, I conducted phenomenological interviews with four parents involved with CWS in Madera County, one adult who was in care of CWS as a child, and four social workers who work directly with rural families. The interview questions regarded services and barriers to access, reasons for removal, and views on social policy changes. Results indicate rural families experience unique circumstances due to the complexity of their living conditions; I identified many structural barriers to accessing services. Similar barriers that brought children into care of CWS prevented families from leaving the system. Parents reported living far from services without transportation, making court-ordered services, such as substance abuse programs, difficult to attend. Most services were located far from rural communities, inhibiting access to rural families and prolonging time in care. Social structures force vulnerable populations, like rural families, into systems like CWS, while obstructing their access to services that enhance their well-being, and therefore bringing awareness to this issue is essential.