Better Know a Network: Communities That Care Coalition

The Communities That Care Coalition (CTC) was founded in 2002 in Franklin County, Massachusetts, in response to strong community concern for youth substance use, which had surpassed national averages. The initiative began with funding from Channing Bete, a publishing company in South Deerfield that initially supported the Communities That CareTM model, and a local business located in Greenfield matched their financing. Currently, much of their funding comes from federal, state and local grants obtained by the Partnership for Youth, a program of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments. Co-Coordinators Kat Allen and Rachel Stoler – Partnership for Youth staff and dedicated champions of CTC since nearly the beginning of the Coalition – work with their Coalition partners, families, schools, and organizations to promote positive youth development and to strengthen supportive relationships with peers and adults in their lives. CTC’s organizational structure clearly defines roles within the Coalition, to target crucial issues in the community. By using local data, the Coalition identifies and addresses critical risk factors, and tracks progress within Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. 

CTC achieves outcomes through a Collective Impact approach, which they adopted well before this approach became popular among organizational networks. The Coalition serves 30 towns in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, and consists of representatives of the community, elected officials, and roughly 100 organizations, comprising more than a dozen sectors. With so many organizations and participants, CTC brings together numerous areas of work and programming and coordinates them under a common agenda, shared measurement, and a backbone structure, supported by continuous communication and mutually reinforcing activities. With the input of organizational and community members, CTC created their original Community Action Plan in 2005, and updated versions in 2008, 2010, 2016, and finally the most recent publication, 2020, which will guide their work until 2023. This plan outlines the Coalition’s vision, mission, values, as well as their organizational structure, achievements thus far, and strategies moving forward. 

CTC is a collaboration between many institutions and individuals. Its structure includes a coordinating council and six active workgroups: the Policy and Practice Change Workgroup, the Parent Education Workgroup, the Regional School Health Task Force, the Mass in Motion Steering Committee, the Racial Justice Workgroup, and the Youth Leadership Board. Each workgroup has its own set of goals, operations, and implementation strategies, which all ultimately lead to improving the well-being and health of young people and increasing health equity and racial justice. Since the beginning, CTC has continually expanded its scope to include other factors that connect to substance use, such as racial inequities, healthy eating, and academic success. In 2011, with a grant from the Department of Public Health, CTC incorporated Healthy Eating and Active Living into the Coalition’s scope and increased its emphasis on health equity. CTC has evolved to include new aspects (such as mental health and Restorative Practices) and partnerships, all of which are vital youth health and well-being. 

CTC is data-driven; the original CTC model emphasizes data collection and uses it to identify risk and protective factors in the community. Since 2003, CTC has worked with nine school districts in Franklin County and the North Quabbin to conduct an annual Teen Health Survey of students in grades 8, 10, and 12. The survey examines substance use, mental health, violence in the community, attitudes about peer risk-taking, dating and sexuality, exercise and nutrition, and decision-making. The results allow CTC to implement and adjust programs, obtain funding, educate the community, and show changes within the community over time. CTC modifies its data collection based on the needs of the schools, community and partners, and often cross-tabulates data for organizations and groups in its network. More recently, CTC has complemented its quantitative data with qualitative data analysis, namely in the form of focus groups and interviews. CTC plans to increase conversations and interactions with community members in the future.

CTC intends to increase its commitment to community building, and intentionally create a welcoming space for all community members. CTC, in collaboration with The Mediation & Training Collaborative, is promoting the implementation of Restorative Practices in schools, which focuses on building community and repairing harm in a way that values all community members.  CTC has also increased efforts to identify and dismantle white dominant power structures and culture within the community. CTC has become an important force in improving physical and mental health in the community. As outlined in its most recent Community Action Plan, with specific strategies to address particular risk factors, CTC is supporting improvements in health outcomes through an emphasis on community building and upstream prevention.