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Are Ohio's "Multi-System" Youth Falling into the Wrong Hands?

PHOTO: At-risk children in Ohio can face a range of issues, including abuse or neglect, trouble with the law, or developmental or mental health problems. Experts say these "multi-system" youth are often falling through the cracks between agencies. Photo credit: Vaidehi Shah/Flickr.
PHOTO: At-risk children in Ohio can face a range of issues, including abuse or neglect, trouble with the law, or developmental or mental health problems. Experts say these "multi-system" youth are often falling through the cracks between agencies. Photo credit: Vaidehi Shah/Flickr.
May 4, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Child welfare, developmental disabilities, mental health, and juvenile court systems work to help at-risk kids in Ohio, but experts say that in a "multi-system" situation, some of these children are winding up in the wrong hands.

June Cannon, director with Miami County Children Services, says some youth enter child welfare because other agencies lack the resources to meet their mental health or developmental needs.

She says an increasing number of parents are giving up custody of their children because services are too expensive or not covered by Medicaid.

"Child welfare is already an underfunded area and this is just an additional population that is coming to us to be served," she says. "Children's services is by no means the expert with regard to juvenile court youth or youth that are involved with DD."

According to child welfare data, in 2013, six-in-10 kids in child welfare custody in Ohio entered, not because of abuse or neglect but because child welfare can access funding for their care.

Deputy Director of Clark County Children Services Pam Meermans says a child can end up in the wrong place because of their complex challenges.

"Historically they were abused, neglected children before they became involved in the juvenile justice system," says Meermans. "Their abuse and neglect and trauma from maltreatment and their family history produces mental health issues. So that's why they cluster and become multi-system youth."

Tim Schaffner, director with Trumbull County Children Services, says some counties lack the funding to help a child with legal troubles or mental health issues so the child is shuffled around.

"In many areas the agencies kind of push off the child and family on each other," he says. "Without getting child welfare at the table and often times juvenile court and developmental disabilities and the family and the support systems, then nothing whatsoever happens."

Schaffner says with better coordination and early intervention, at-risk children are more likely to stay in school, avoid legal troubles, and likely not need social service assistance as an adult. In part two of our series tomorrow, we'll examine ways Ohio can better address the challenges of multi-system youth.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH