November 20, 2002 | By: Janet Eaton, Ag. Communications Intern

Policy makers are hearing the voices of low-income rural families through a research study being conducted by 15 land grant universities, including the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture.

UK Rural Sociologist Patricia Dyk is one of 40 researchers nationwide involved in the study and the only rural sociologist. She met with 21 Kentucky women over the past three years to gather information about the families, their needs and their resourcefulness. Researchers in the other states have been doing the same. In all, 433 low-income rural women are contributing their stories.

"Most welfare studies are focusing on urban cities and so ours is the only national study that is being done in rural communities across the states," Dyk said. "We will give what we are finding out from the voices of these women to federal and state government officials so their decision-making and policy-setting will be in light of what might be the real plight of women."

In addition to policy makers, the study will feed information back to the women in the study outlining some ways other women have dealt with limited resources. Cooperative Extension also will benefit from the information to improve program outreach.

To be included in the research, the women must receive food stamps or be eligible for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. Of the study group, 50 percent are employed in one to three jobs and approximately one-half are married.

According to Dyk, most of the Kentucky women feel they are tied to their communities. Moving away is not an option because they strongly rely on their support networks and some are taking care of elderly relatives. Dyk said the study indicates that government initiatives, which give families funds to move to an area with better job opportunities, may take the families away from their support systems.

"Some, even given a very high paying job, wouldn't want to leave their family and friends," Dyk said. "That is just really important."

When the women talk about their needs, health issues are a common theme, especially issues involving their children. Being able to provide childcare when their children are very ill is a top concern.

"They don't feel comfortable having strangers, who are not familiar with their children's health issues, take care of them," said Dyk. "Mom can't work a regular job when she has to take off when children are sick with chronic illnesses."

The researchers will take the next couple of years to study the data already collected. They will make further recommendations to help the voices of low-income rural families be heard where it counts.



Patricia Dyk  859-257-3228