COOS COUNTY — The Coos Youth Study was a 10-year research project, conducted by researchers at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy, about growing up in a rural county undergoing transformative economic and demographic changes.
The research focused on how those changes factored into youths’ plans to stay in the region, pursue opportunities elsewhere, permanently relocate or return to their home communities with new skills and new ideas.
From 2008 to 2018, data was gathered from 831 survey participants at up to six points in time.
Pulp and paper mills served as the economic backbone of the region for generations. However, in the years leading up to the study, most of the mills closed in rapid succession, resulting in widespread job losses. The number of family households with children under 18 fell by almost a quarter in this period of manufacturing decline.
Therefore, the study was seen by stakeholders interested in rebuilding local economies and maintaining vibrant Coos communities as a timely opportunity to check in with the region’s youth. The results point to specific areas for action to support and retain young people.
Chaotic home environments can happen at any socioeconomic level and are linked with adolescents having a more negative outlook on the future.
The study found that Coos adolescents reported lower levels of household chaos than in other U.S. studies.
Those facing chaotic households may not be able to change their home environments, but they can be shown skills to improve predictability and organization in their schoolwork and personal routines. Clinical and programmatic efforts could be designed to limit and prevent household chaos by supporting families in household management.
The researchers found that community attachment may reduce the risk of developing symptoms of depressed mood and substance misuse — symptoms a 2011 Coos Youth Study report found that study participants were four times more susceptible than their nationwide counterparts. Even youth who do not show signs of depression are likely to reap long-term benefits from strategies that help them find healthy ways to cope with stress early in life.
Programs that emphasize stress management in youth may be particularly important for Coos women’s long-term health and well-being. Policies and practices that promote the development and maintenance of community ties in youth can serve to reduce adult risk for adverse mental and behavioral health outcomes.
The study revealed that most high school students in Coos reported high aspirations and expectations for the future, but in general they were more confident about graduating from high school and finishing college than having a successful career.
Coos boys were less confident than the girls about their futures in terms of both education and career success. High school students who felt most confident in their ability to succeed in their future education and career pursuits were the least likely to report two years post-high school that they planned to make their future home in Coos County.
Increasing efforts to identify and support students who are struggling academically and who are disconnected from their school or community as early as possible could significantly improve these students’ future aspirations and attainment.
Investment by schools and communities in opportunities for non-college-bound youth to explore careers and prepare for the workforce could also benefit Coos young people and enhance the vitality of the region.
The study found that youth who feel like their voices are heard during childhood and adolescence may be more prone to desire a long-term future in Coos even if they leave for a while during early adulthood to pursue educational or professional opportunities.
The sense of community among Coos youth is strong and remained resilient in the face of the Great Recession.
The exception is youth voice, which remained low in comparison to school belonging, community integration and community support. It is important that adults in Coos County continue to foster a sense of community among youth and do more to convince them that their concerns and opinions matter to adults.
While it will be healthy for some youth to leave to pursue educational or professional goals, enticing some to return someday may involve more than jobs or economic development.
The Coos Youth Study, planning for which began in 2007, was the product of a collaboration between the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, the primary sponsor of the study, and the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy, then the Carsey Institute.
The findings were intended to support informed grantmaking by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund and other stakeholders invested in maintaining vibrant communities in the North Country.
Additional funding for the study was provided by the National Science Foundation.
All school administrative units in Coos County elected to join the study.
For more information about the study, including a timeline of the project’s data collection activities as well as links to Carsey and other publications based on these data, go to carsey.unh.edu/policy/coos-youth-study.