Economic transition caused by the closure of a coal mine or power plant in a community is a complex, multi-faceted process. Communities often face a diverse set of challenges including job losses, economic uncertainty, environmental clean-up, and lack of access to capital and leadership. Each transitioning community faces its own unique choices and circumstances. But in many coal communities, the complexity of transition planning is made even more challenging by behavioral health trends, such as substance abuse, mental health issues, violence in the home or child neglect. Recognizing the importance of addressing community economic transition and trauma at the same time, the Just Transition Fund has added new resources to the Blueprint for Transition to help: Building a Community Response to Trauma.
Addressing Trauma in Coal Transition
Trauma can be experienced by an individual, but also by a community in the form of an economic shock, chronic poverty, natural disaster, discrimination, barriers to social mobility, or community violence. The economic shock of a local plant or mine closure, and the resulting tax base and workforce impacts, often puts a strain on community resources. In places also experiencing community behavioral health issues, support systems, including schools, legal and justice systems, child welfare systems, and health networks may already be strained, meaning help may not be available when it’s needed. Collectively, these traumas in a community can shape the transition planning process significantly, including impacting a community’s resilience to adversity over time.
Communities confronting economic transition and also dealing with high levels of individual and community trauma should consider the connection between closures and adverse behavioral health trends at the same time. Communities can and should address both economic and social community wellbeing and resilience. Local leaders can lay the foundation for sustained success if trauma-responsive practices are adopted at the initiation of planning, both in the substance of the goals developed through transition planning, as well as the construction of the process itself.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that trauma “has a lasting adverse impact on an individual’s physical, mental, emotional and social well-being.” As a result, individuals or communities with histories of significant trauma can struggle to adapt to changing environments and may have challenges sustaining change over time. When confronting trauma in economic development and transition planning, the approach should be community-driven and responsive to local stakeholders, experiences, history, and vision. Basing community planning efforts in values of trust, openness, representation, and equity can improve outcomes and increase the probability of a just transition that can be supported by a community.
In particular, local leaders should bring an awareness of trauma, resilience, and the needs of families and children to the forefront of economic transition planning. Community planning efforts can intentionally incorporate strategies to buffer children against trauma and support families facing financial insecurity. Efforts to preserve social support, develop community connections as workplaces change, and increase access to mental and behavioral health resources can help to create an environment where workforce training and job reskilling efforts are more likely to succeed. By including the needs of children in transition planning, a community can help to reduce trauma in the future workforce and plan for a thriving economy that endures.
New Resources and Tools
The reality of transition planning in a community facing trauma is difficult—but you’re not alone. Others across the country have faced similar struggles and identified paths forward that are sensitive to these challenges. The Just Transition Fund created the Blueprint for Transition to help local leaders navigate the process of transition planning in a fair and inclusive manner.
In the past few months, we’ve developed targeted planning resources to support transitioning communities dealing with trauma. Check out Part 1: Understanding Trauma and Adversity, which provides an introduction to understanding why addressing trauma in coal communities matters. And JTF’s latest resource, Part 2: Building a Community Response to Trauma, which includes recommendations to help local leaders build trauma-informed community planning processes. Bringing an awareness of trauma to the forefront of community transition planning can result in a more comprehensive evaluation of community needs and improved outcomes for workers and their families.
Additional resources for trauma-informed community planning can be found at:
- Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities: http://marc.healthfederation.org/
- Building Resilient and Trauma-Informed Communities: https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/sma17-5014.pdf
- Children, Violence, and Trauma – Community-Based Approaches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64jsmsSa-_U
- Trauma-Informed Community Development (TED Talk): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcbu58p0fbA
Jennifer Owen is the owner of Designing Trust, LLC., a professional consulting firm