In other words, why is it important to focus on supporting youth health and reducing youth substance use here in our local area?
Our communities are located in the heart of Franklin County, Massachusetts, flanking the Connecticut River, about 100 miles west of Boston. Our region is in the part of the Commonwealth that’s sometimes referred to as Western Mass or the Pioneer Valley. Greenfield and the section of Montague called Turners Falls are the most densely populated areas in a mostly rural county. In nearby towns, the number of residents under 25 years old has been steadily declining for years; in Greenfield and Montague, that trend has been relatively flat, which indicates that a greater share of local youth live in our communities than elsewhere in Franklin County.
There are many advantages to living here and growing up here, but there are some significant challenges as well.
Greenfield, Turners Falls, and the surrounding towns were once strong industrial areas, but factory closures in the second half of the 20th century hollowed out the region’s economic base. The region remains economically depressed today: 1 in 5 Greenfield children are living under the federal poverty level.1 49% of students in the Greenfield Public School District and 47% of students in the Gill-Montague School District are economically disadvantaged.2 The median household income is $48,724 for Greenfield compared to $70,954 for Massachusetts as a whole.
Lack of opportunities and transportation challenges
The relatively small and scattered population of the region makes it challenging to provide and access high quality services, including health care, mental health support, jobs and job training, child care, social services, education supports, transportation, and more. Local residents without a car find it especially hard to get to the places they need to go and to be involved with activities that are not accessible by public transportation.
The local bus service, the Franklin Regional Transit Authority (FRTA), does not operate on weekends. However, the FRTA is piloting a new service FRTA ACCESS (micro-transit pilot program) that allows people to request rides to and from requested locations via a mobile app during the week. This service can help riders get to locations that are not on the fixed routes.
The way that public schools are funded lead to low-income, rural communities like ours needing more resources and funding than they receive. Also, the significant amount of poverty, trauma, and substance use in the region brings children to school with additional, important needs that require a lot of extra resources per student. Despite committed and skilled faculty, staff, and administrators, it can be hard for the schools to juggle all of the competing needs with limited resources.
For people of color, gender-nonconforming people, people with disabilities, and newcomers, it can be particularly hard to access what they need in the community. This is one reason why health equity and racial justice work are important aspects of prevention work in our communities.
The bad news
All of these conditions create an environment that increase the risk of violence, substance use, and a variety of health challenges. Some of the related problems we see in our communities include comparatively high rates of opiate use and deaths, maternal smoking, DCF involvement, and children placed in foster care.
All of these challenges mean that it’s very important to focus on prevention, so we can reduce the problems that our communities face, prevent future problems, and foster a bright future for our youth and communities!
The good news
However, the evidence shows that youth substance use and related concerns that affect youth health are less of a problem here than one would expect.
Despite the challenges noted above, 4SC and the Partnership, in collaboration with the Communities That Care Coalition, have had many successes, including a substantial reduction of substance use among Greenfield and Gill-Montague youth since the coalitions have been specifically focusing on youth substance use prevention and reduction. More about this in our results section!
Please join our efforts to keep supporting our communities!
1 Except where otherwise noted, the community-level data in this section comes from US Census Bureau. Fast Facts, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/
2 Statistics throughout this document that pertain to the school districts come from DESE school profile data 2017-2018, 2019-2020 (and earlier years), http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/