7 in 10 parents worry about kids' mental health. Resolving the crisis is crucial. |Opinion

Shannon Jones is the president and CEO of Groundwork Ohio. Nick Lashutka is the president and CEO of Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. Lisa A. Gray is the president of Ohio Excels.


As parents across Ohio know well, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching negative impacts on the health and well-being of children and their families. Increased isolation, economic instability, and gaps in in-person education have had detrimental effects on early childhood and school-age mental and behavioral health.


The full extent of the pandemic’s impact will take time to discern. However, it is clear that our youngest Ohioans and their families have been and are in crisis. Nearly seven in 10 Ohio parents with children under age 5 said they are worried about the mental or emotional health of their children. Only two out of five Ohio children were ready for kindergarten during the 2020-21 school year.


These are just two of the many research-based examples illustrating the dire situation facing Ohio families. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association, the nation’s pediatricians and children’s hospitals have collectively issued a mental and behavioral healthcare emergency for children across the country.


We’re at a critical juncture as these challenges present an opportunity, and an obligation, for our state to recover and rebuild with our most precious resource – our children – at the forefront.


As we approach the November elections, our candidates for governor have the chance to establish a path forward to both prevent and mitigate the impacts of this crisis.


Ultimately, setting this roadmap and following through with investments to provide a strong foundation for kids and their families is integral to a healthier, more productive, and economically vibrant Ohio.


That is why our organizations – Groundwork Ohio, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, and Ohio Excels – are leading Vote for Ohio Kids, a nonpartisan initiative in partnership with business, education, and healthcare leaders from across the state. Our diverse coalition is dedicated to driving a powerful agenda that puts Ohio kids front and center.


Vote for Ohio Kids’ priorities to improve mental health and well-being and to achieve improved outcomes for children in Ohio and their families include: improving access to quality, timely health care; providing access to quality early intervention and early learning opportunities and ensuring students are ready for kindergarten; promoting family resilience and safe, stable environments; developing an integrated child-serving prevention, health, and education workforce; and supporting economic stability and self-sufficiency.


Additionally, we believe that to achieve these goals, the voices of families with children must be elevated within the policymaking process.


We, along with nearly 50 business leaders in Ohio, sent a letter to both parties’ nominees for governor – Gov. Mike DeWine and Nan Whaley – echoing this sentiment and inviting them to participate in a Leadership Forum in Columbus this October. Businesses understand that their success goes hand-in-hand with children’s mental health, healthy development, and access to affordable, high-quality systems of support.


We are hopeful that both candidates will participate in the forum, lay out their plans for supporting the well-being and healthy development of Ohio’s children, and put our state’s children and their families at the forefront of their agendas. Now more than ever, this is imperative for the future of our state.


Shannon Jones is the president and CEO of Groundwork Ohio. Nick Lashutka is the president and CEO of Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. Lisa A. Gray is the president of Ohio Excels.


This article was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch