Planning for the long-term

What Does the Next Generation Need?

When a mine or plant closes, it’s easy to focus on the physical and economic needs. But the stresses created by change will also activate mental health concerns that have multi-generational impact. Although these needs may seem hidden, it is critical to address these needs when planning for any community’s future after coal.

Plant or mine closures can be particularly hard on the children of those who have lost jobs. The potential for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) either in the home or in the broader community can increase significantly. Parents can become depressed or abusive. Substance use may increase. So might rates of domestic violence and divorce. Housing or food may no longer be secure. Families may sink into poverty or even homelessness. All of these factors will have lifelong negative effects on a child’s mental and physical health. The parents themselves may also have a history of ACEs that can be exacerbated by the stress of job loss and can make individual transitions difficult. This creates a twofold challenge of supporting adults whose trauma history may present extra challenges and preventing ACEs in the next generation. 

One key to combating ACEs in a community transition is to focus on reducing adversity for individuals, families, and communities is by employing a number of “protective factors” during transition.

Protective Factors

For individuals and families:

  • Strong social networks
  • Healthy eating and exercise
  • Constructive hobbies

For communities:

  • Employing trauma-informed practices in schools and other services
  • Providing constant communication about transition to community members to help alleviate the anxiety caused by uncertainty
  • Encouraging and preserving space for community gatherings

Even tough budget decisions that favor support for community services like schools, parks, libraries, and other assets can help reduce trauma.

Focusing on trauma and ACEs reduction will also help the community keep an eye on the long term. During transition, the community will be focused on the now, and it will be difficult to think beyond the next 5-10 years. But communities in transition also must think about future generations, and how the decisions made today will affect the long-term future of education, local culture and social engagement, economic mobility, health and wellness for those who will live in the community 20, 40 or even 100 years from now.

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