ONC reporting – Across Ohio, a shortage of foster families, group homes and residential treatment facilities has overwhelmed child welfare agencies.

Last year more than five hundred children spent at least one night in county government offices because there was nowhere for them to go, according to a state report. Portage County Job and Family Services Director Kellijo Jefferies recently was unable to find placement for an 11-year-old girl with developmental disabilities, as well as two youths who had attempted suicide.

 “What we learned quickly was that there aren’t many options for kids with those profound needs.”

More youths need intensive and individualized therapy, and a lack of mental health professionals and other staff has caused facilities to reduce services and beds. Ohio is among nine states where child-welfare services are administered by counties. Advocates say a statewide solution is needed and have asked lawmakers to create a task force to come up with recommendations and aggressively implement them.

Amy Wood with Franklin County Children’s Services says nearly fifteen hundred youths are in state custody and about a fourth of them have complex issues including mental illness and developmental disabilities.

 “No one wants these children to have to stay in our building. I mean, it’s really not set up or accommodated for that need. So they’re just days my stomach hurts when I literally start to think about the fact that they’re going to have to stay one more night with us.”

The youth mental health crisis isn’t just impacting Ohio. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a national state of emergency in children’s mental health, and the U-S Surgeon General released an advisory on protecting youth mental health.