Mental health services for Ohio’s children need continued improvement, experts say.
Areas across the state still suffer from access, they say, and kids need help getting what they need to respond to mental health problems, and prevent them before they happen.
“Ohio has an opportunity to invest in children, so that we’re promoting their well-being and preventing some of these (mental health issues) from occurring,” said Kim Eckhardt, research manager for the Ohio Children’s Defense Fund.
Research by CDF-Ohio showed that Ohio lacks a uniform system of care for behavioral health, despite the fact that “20% of children’s well-being can be affected by clinical intervention,” according to CDF and a 2021 report. Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are part of the risks that affect children and create mental health problems in need of intervention. According to CDF-Ohio, ACEs “are linked to the development of a wide range of health problems” and can include increased risk of family dysfunction, violence and economic hardship in families.
In 2021, Ohio ranked 46th in the nation for children with three or more ACEs, with minorities at highest risk.
While Medicaid funds access to mental health services for children, lack of transportation, and providers, can create barriers to care.
Robin Harris, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Board of Gallia, Jackson and Meigs counties, said all but four of the state’s Appalachian counties have been designated as “mental health professional shortage areas.” Only one “crisis stabilization facility” exists in Appalachia, Gallia County.
“Bringing that facility to fruition was an example of good old-fashioned Appalachian determination,” Harris told the bipartisan Ohio Legislative Children’s Caucus.
Still, children typically have to travel two hours or more to get to a mental health facility, with 14% of Appalachian families reporting they have no transportation to do so.
Fort Frye Local School District Superintendent Stephanie Starcher knows mental health struggles not only in her students, but in her own family.
Starcher’s daughter suffers from severe mental health issues, and her family has to travel two hours to Cincinnati or Columbus for proper care. Starcher said she, her daughter and her husband spent three days at a local emergency room waiting for transport to the facility.
She and her husband have given up work and her daughter has missed school to travel for care when telehealth services are not suitable.
“I’m constantly thinking to myself,” Starcher said. “If I as an educator…have to do this to get the services our kids need because (the services) aren’t in Appalachia, then what about the families that don’t have the education to jump through the hoops? That I have?”
Fort Frye contracts with local behavioral health providers to staff social workers and counselors who work with students after obtaining parental permission.
“I heard from agencies that we worked with that it was very difficult to recruit workers in this area,” Starcher said. “Even if we have funding to support clinical settings in schools, getting workers here is a big challenge.”
Appalachia has its share of problems, but Eckhart said the problem isn’t unique to Appalachia.
“In those rural counties across the state, you might have 20 providers in the entire county,” Eckhart said.
Advocates want to see regional investment focused on behavioral health reforms, including funding to receive resources from the American Rescue Plan.
Randy Leight, executive director of the Appalachian Children’s Coalition, said the organization is conducting a “needs assessment” in all 32 Appalachian counties.
But using federal ARPA funds to invest in mental health across the state, and promoting student wellness and success funding in schools for social and emotional learning — something parents say should be a priority in education — are “critically important.” to Eckhart.
In May of this year, Governor Mike DeWine announced the “Pediatric Behavioral Health Initiative,” allocating $84 million in federal ARPA funds to increase access to care and expand capacity across the state so children and their families can receive services and supports. behavioral health needs in or near their community,” according to an announcement about the initiative.
The fund was approved by the General Assembly in House Bill 168. Of the funding, $25 million went to Dayton Children’s Hospital, $17 million to Toledo’s ProMedica Russell J. Ebed Children’s Hospital, $15 million University Hospital Rainbow Babies and Children, $10 million. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and $7 million to Akron Children’s Hospital.
Appalachian Children’s Coalition’s Integrated Services for Behavioral Health was designated $6.45 million, and the coalition’s Hopewell Health Centers allocated $3.55 million.
Leite argued for multiple funding sources to cement resources in the state. He estimated $20 million to $30 million in one-time funding would be needed to really get the services up and running.
“Because of the complexity, I think there’s a need to think about all the funding sources that are available,” Leight said.
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