LIMA — Ohio business groups are calling on Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio lawmakers to continue funding youth mental health and educational support services they say are needed to grow the economy.
“An investment in student wellness is an investment in generations,” said Jed Metzger, president and CEO of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce, who spoke in support of Ohio’s Student Wellness and Support Fund on Thursday.
The fund was established in 2019 so school districts could invest in more wellness services, particularly those designed for the most at-risk students like homeless youth, children in foster care and students with other traumas that could disrupt learning.
Funding for the Student Wellness and Support Fund could increase under the state’s biennial budget, which lawmakers have until the end of June to finalize.
“It is critical that our children can enter the workforce with both technical skills and the soft skills to succeed in their careers and in life,” Metzger said on a conference call Thursday.
The Council for Strong America, a national nonprofit representing business executives that coordinated Thursday’s call, released a report arguing that state-funded child wellness initiatives like the Student Wellness and Success Fund are key to fostering the future workforce, as increasingly demanding jobs require more adults to finish high school and postsecondary training.
Ohio’s youth suicide rate increased 64% from 2007 to 2018, the report found, while 59% of parents reported that their child’s mental or emotional health worsened during the pandemic.
And students living in poverty or who have experienced other traumas often benefit from access to safe, stable health services, the report found.
Amber Moorer, one of the report’s authors, said investments in child wellbeing could start even earlier than school age with home visiting programs, in which parents invite nurses or social workers into their homes as early as pregnancy to learn parenting skills and reduce chances of abuse and neglect.
“Ohio has a great opportunity right now to invest in child physical health, mental health and lifelong success,” Moorer said. “The strength of the future workforce and ultimately the state economy depend on the choices that our legislators will make this year.”