Success Stories

The Focus On Success
Over the course of this project we will be collecting stories about how rural communities are protecting children and strengthening families. If you have a story along these lines you would like to share, please contact John McMahon at [email protected].

Though we are collecting stories about child welfare and child protection efforts, we are just as interested in successes that families at risk--and their communities--achieve without the formal involvement of CPS. The story in the adjacent sidebar is just this kind of story.

Finding and Spreading Success
The rural success stories we find will play an important role in the Rural Success Project's curriculum development and community outreach efforts, which include:

  1. Developing a training curriculum for rural child welfare supervisors and line workers
  2. Conducting specialized cross-training for child welfare agencies and their community partners
  3. Holding community engagement dialogues and state and rural child welfare summits to galvanize rural communities around the tasks of achieving child safety, permanence, and well-being, and
  4. Evaluating and disseminating project findings and lessons learned.

Resources for Rural Success
We hope you find the following written resources helpful.

Rural North Carolina
North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Inc. (2003). Available <>.

General Rural Child Welfare
Carlton La-Ney, I., Edwards, R., & Reid, P. (Eds.). (1999). Preserving and strengthening small towns and rural communities. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

Ginsberg, L. (Ed.). (1998). Social work in rural communities (3rd ed.). Alexandria,VA: Council on Social Work Education.

Mack, K., & Boehm, S. (2001). Rural child welfare 101. Children's Voice. Annapolis Junction, MD: Child Welfare League of America.<>

Macro International. (1999). Rural welfare to work strategies: Research synthesis. Calverton, MD: Author.

Martinez-Brawley, E. (1999). Close to home: Human services and the small community. Washington, DC: NASW Press.

Mermelstein, J., & Sundet, P. (1995). Social work practice in rural mental health. In L. Ginsberg (Ed.), Social Work in Rural Communities, 82-98. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

Miller, R.S., & Ray, J. (1998). The satisfaction of community mental health professionals with life and work in rural areas. Human Services in the Rural Environment, 10, 5-11.

Rural Services Institute. (1995). Rural prism. Mansfield PA: Mansfield University. Based on Beth Walter Honadle, Public administration in rural areas and small jurisdictions: A guide to the literature. (1993). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Templeman, S. B. and L. Mitchell (2002). Challenging the one-size-fits-all myth: Findings and Solutions from a Statewide Focus Group of Rural Social Workers. Child Welfare LXXXI(5): 757-772.


Success Story
No. 1

Sarah and Her Family

As told by “Carol,” a volunteer in a rural community.
(All names have been changed to protect the
confidentiality of those involved.)

I mentored Sarah through a program for youth who are not doing well in school and are considered at risk of entering foster care or a detention center. The program is similar to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Usually these kids are court referred. When we went through training to become mentors they told us we would never be invited into the youth's home or get to know their family.

After about a year, Sarah's family was evicted from their home. We found their mother standing on the side of their road with both girls in her arms.  The only place they could go was a “house” that was really more like a barn, since animals had been living in it. It had no water, no inside plumbing, no insulation.  Because the grass had never been cut it was very high and inhabited by snakes.  Sarah’s family was afraid to go to the outhouse.

My husband and I organized volunteers to bring groceries and water and to help cut grass.  We became closer to the family as a result of this. 

Both my husband and I had been involved with our local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and we recommended this family to Habitat for a house.  The organization was reluctant at first because they did not know this family, but since they knew us they approved their application based on our promise of continued involvement with the family.  This gave Habitat some assurance that the family would comply with the Habitat agreements.

Work by more than 100 volunteers soon began. Sarah’s family put in over 400 hours of work on the project. When it was finished, they had a beautiful property and a 1,200 square foot home with running water, heat, and, for the first time, a washer and dryer.

My husband and I also became involved with Sarah’s family through an initiative designed to keep families and children out of the child welfare system.  We attended a two-day training to learn strengths-based facilitation.  After that, we formed a circle of volunteer support around this family, held regular monthly meetings in their home and helped them problem solve using their family strengths.  I went to Sarah's school to talk with her teachers, worked with her on homework, helped her mom and dad get a phone, and encouraged her mom to get a job.  We got involved with the entire family—Sarah has other siblings. One year we had Christmas for them at our house. The other years we took Christmas there. 

We became friends with the family and continued to support them for about three years.  They continue to live in their beautiful Habitat-built home, and they have helped other families build their Habitat homes.

Sarah gets A’s and B’s in her resource classes, and the family has been able to maintain their new lifestyle.

© UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work
Last revised: June 9, 2005

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