Aug 16, 2023 - Politics

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County launch youth mental health task force

Suited leaders in Cleveland sit around a conference table.

County Executive Chris Ronayne and Mayor Justin Bibb, putting their heads together on youth mental health. Ohio Means Jobs executive director Michelle Rose (R) facilitated Tuesday's meeting. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

City and Cuyahoga County leaders convened Tuesday to launch a "sprint task force" aimed at tackling the shortage of youth mental health providers in the region.

Why it matters: Mental health issues among Cleveland's young people have been exacerbated by pandemic isolation and the stressors of poverty and violence.

  • They also have been linked to rising crime rates, declining academic performance and increasing suicidal ideation.

What's happening: Social workers and other professionals, like Say Yes Cleveland's family support specialists are increasingly drawn to other careers with higher pay and lower stress.

State of play: The task force, composed of government and nonprofit leaders working in health and human services, plan to meet over the next 180 days and produce a report with specific recommendations focused on six key areas:

  1. Equitable pay for behavioral health providers
  2. Loan forgiveness for employees
  3. Professional capacity building
  4. Interstate licensure simplification
  5. Diversity and equity in the field
  6. Integrated behavioral health care

What they're saying: "This report will allow us to act with urgency to support our young people, which in turn impacts our schools and educators, and the overall health of our city," Mayor Justin Bibb said at a roundtable conversation Tuesday afternoon.

Between the lines: Habeebah Rasheed Grimes, CEO of Cleveland's Positive Education Program, cited the rapid turnover among youth mental health workers due to "professional quality of life."

  • She said increasing pay is important, but so is ensuring that workers are connected with professionals with similar lived experiences.

Meanwhile, County Executive Chris Ronayne emphasized that the city and the county were committed to creating a "united front" in strengthening the mental health workforce.

Flashback: Before Ronayne's election in the fall, the county raised social worker pay to $26 per hour to address a shortage of nearly 150 workers in the county's Division of Children and Family Services.

  • Ronayne said additional legislation may be required to raise pay and make the field more attractive.

The bottom line: "If this is a priority, we have to invest in it," he said.

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