Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

D.S.W. Social work


Social Work

First Advisor

Dr. John Vafeas

Second Advisor

Dr. Janice Gasker

Third Advisor

Dr. Sharon Lyter


Rural families and children have historically been challenged by a lack of public investment in their communities. Over generations, such deprivation created cycles of pervasive, persistent behavioral health and well-being disparities that negatively impact contemporary families and children, and threaten the socioeconomic future of America (Branson, 2019; Showalter et al., 2019; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). The purpose of this dissertation was to build a model of school social work best practices employing strategies intended to break cycles of unmet needs by reducing social determinant of health (SDOH) risks in rural environments, thereby enhancing the health and well-being of families, and the children in their care.

This work integrated current knowledge and advancements from multiple fields of study to forge innovations in practice supported by the foundational framework set forth by the School Social Work Association of America ([SSWAA], n.d.). The best practices model was piloted in five elementary schools in three rural school districts in northeastern Pennsylvania (N = 1,727). A quasi-experimental, nonequivalent control group design was used to examine the effects of family-focused case management (FFCM) on student success. At the end of the first phase of this longitudinal community-based action research (CBPR) project (one public school trimester averaged 56 days), inferential statistics found no significant differences in the sample (n = 95) between the experimental group of youth whose family voluntarily participated in FFCM (n = 13) and the control group of youth whose family did not voluntarily participate in FFCM (n = 82). Barriers to implementing the model’s best practices of multisystem practice (MSP), family-in-environment (FIE), and planned change process (PCP) included lack of funding to achieve appropriate provider–student ratios in the high need, post-COVID-19 era and ideologies discounting families as a pivotal social institution. Provider shortages obstructed the inclusion of families in service offerings and the use of upstream prevention programs critical to reducing SDOH risk factors from the convenient hub of rural schools. Study implications and recommendations for future research are offered.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Included in

Social Work Commons



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