Chronic Absenteeism, Depression, Anxiety Plague Ohio Kids

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Children's advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about the well-being of Ohio's kids.

The 2022 Kids Count Data Book released today highlights some troubling trends in how Ohio children are faring in their lives, including a 45% increase in chronic absenteeism between 2019 and 2021. And nationally, more than one-in-nine children experienced anxiety, depression or both.

Research Manager with the Children's Defense Fund-Ohio Kim Eckhart said absenteeism and mental health challenges are interconnected.

"If a young person is having symptoms of anxiety and depression, it's much more difficult for them to participate in academic activities," said Eckhart. "And other basic needs really have to be met in order for children to succeed. That's very clear when we see chronic absenteeism so high."

The report ranks Ohio 28th for education, with an increase in three- and four-year-old children not in preschool, and nearly one-in-five high schoolers not graduating on time.

However, Ohio showed improvement in all four economic indicators, including a slight drop in the number of kids living in poverty and those whose parents lack secure employment.

Leslie Boissiere - vice president for external affairs with the Casey Foundation - explained that kids who grow up in poverty or without having their basic needs met experience more stress.

"There's a direct correlation between trauma and stress and poverty," said Boissiere. "We know that the financial hardships that families experience - lack of access to basic needs, like nutrition and health care - has a direct impact on the well-being of kids."

Eckhart said the findings underscore the crucial need to expand access to mental health services for children. She explained that Ohio still has nearly $2 billion in unallocated federal COVID relief funds, and the state's revenue surplus is about 11% higher than initial estimates.

"There's money and resources available at the state level to provide things like school-based health centers," said Eckhart, "where you can have the types of student-to-counselor ratios needed so that all children have access to those types of services."

The report ranks Ohio 31st overall among states for child well-being.
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