Abstract: Hunger in Our Communities: Social Work Perspectives on Food Justice for Families (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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389P Hunger in Our Communities: Social Work Perspectives on Food Justice for Families

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Astrid Uhl, BSW, Student, Temple University, Philadephia, PA
Brittany Schuler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Cheri Carter, PhD, Asst. Professor & BSW Program Director, Temple University, PA
Background and Purpose: In 2020, food insecurity (FI) nearly tripled among households with children in urban settings, exacerbated by increased socioeconomic inequality during the Covid-19 pandemic. In urban areas with high rates of poverty, food assistance programs struggled to meet food security needs as challenges across multiple system levels increased. Experiencing FI can impact the physical, emotional, and social well-being of individuals and families. There is an urgent need for timely, up-to-date information on the major challenges and facilitators to improving food security assistance programs in high-risk communities. This qualitative study aimed to provide a cross-sector perspective of the barriers and facilitators of FI, as well as promising approaches for building community capacity to improve food security.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with n = 6 participants consisting of social service staff and volunteers from community-serving social service agencies with food assistance programming. Semi-structured in-depth interviews include 3 global questions to examine major (1) challenges, (2) facilitators, and (3) promising approaches to reduce FI. Data was analyzed using MAX QDA v.20 analytic software, with a systematic approach recommended for health research and informed by the ecocultural family framework.

Results: Results include n = 6 participants, who were (100% female, 83% program directors / 17% volunteer). Social service staff and volunteers consistently identified major challenges affecting service delivery and agency functioning, including limited provider and program capacity to meet increased family needs; secondary traumatic stress; and fragmented systems of care. Major barriers identified as impacting families in addition to FI included the lack of critical resources (housing, utilities, childcare, transportation); the lack of available jobs to gain stable and sustainable access to critical basic needs resources; fear of authorities and stigma preventing access to needed health and mental health care; and an unsafe community environment that can contribute to high levels of stress. Promising facilitators were related to capacity building; investing in community buy-in; being attentive and responsive to the unique needs of community; and prioritizing sustainability in their structuring through workforce development and efforts to increase social and emotional supports. Promising practices for food assistance programs are those that emphasize direct community involvement, system integration, or community and organizational partnerships to streamline services available to families.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings outline possibilities for critical advancements in future research to address FI, with attention to building upon community strengths and facilitating factors to buffer the effects of major challenges on micro and macro levels. The methodological approach to this study, as well as the challenges, facilitators, and approaches identified by participants, can be used to inform further research into the current conditions of food security interventions. Implications on policy and practice include initial recommendations for promising practices for organizations to support.