March is Social Work Month, which is the perfect opportunity to share how critical our social workers - and all those dedicated to helping children and families - are to a functioning community. Our next generation needs help, which is more apparent than ever as we approach what I call the pandemic’s “third wave.”

One in six children aged 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem. This figure has gone up by 50% in the last three years. I am not surprised.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we predicted a “second wave” would occur that would include a mental health crisis brought on by the stressors of the pandemic. We were right.

What we did not predict was the pandemic’s impact on the mental health workforce. Hiring qualified staff to provide mental health services to children was hard before the pandemic. Now, it is almost impossible. I am predicting that this challenge will lead to a “third wave” of the pandemic that will affect all of us – including an increase in crime, destabilization of families, and a decreased sense of safety.

There are simply not enough mental health workers to meet the growing need. That means that there are thousands of children (and adults) going untreated right here in Northeast Ohio.

Mental health problems don’t typically go away on their own. Over time, mental health issues and their consequences tend to get worse. Imagine the family who can’t access prevention services when their children are young and they can’t access school-based mental health services when their child enters school because there is no one there to provide them. Imagine what happens when they fail to thrive in school and in the community, when their behaviors become so unmanageable, they finally come to the attention of juvenile court or the child welfare system.

What happens when these children, who could have been helped when they were younger, become teens and young adults?

We know what happens. And it impacts all of us.

There are many reasons why we are in this crisis. First, fewer people are going into the mental health field and more people are leaving it – and who can blame them considering the stress they have been under the last several years, the cost of college skyrocketing and the relatively low pay in the field. The State of Ohio also privatized moved children’s behavioral health under Medicaid to private managed care companies to try to reduce costs. These companies hired hundreds of therapists to manage care, not to deliver care. Now, they can’t find any care to manage, and costs are increasing at an unprecedented rate.

These are just two reasons and there are many more. Thankfully, the State of Ohio recognizes the workforce crisis and is taking steps, like investing $85 million dollars into workforce development to address some of the problems. But it will take a decade to make a difference.

This Social Work Month, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate them! At Beech Brook, they do the important work of combating the struggles our children and families face in their everyday lives and help them thrive. If we can escape the “third wave,” they will help lead the way.

And while this is a month to appreciate our incredible social workers, there are many others who are also deserving of our appreciation. Licensed counselors, therapeutic behavioral health specialists, prevention specialists and many others provide mental health services to children and families, and they are equally important parts of our team.

You can help us hire more direct service staff to meet the growing mental health needs in our community.

Refer someone to an open position at Beech Brook and receive $500 once they complete their first 90 days! This is an open invitation to anyone who knows someone who wants to help children and families thrive.

We’re looking for:

  • Social workers
  • Counselors
  • People with bachelor’s degrees in any human service field
  • People with high school diplomas or associate’s degrees who have experience working with children

View our open positions here.

To Beech Brook’s social workers, one month is not enough time to show our appreciation for all you do for our children, families, and community. And to everyone else who provides mental health services, you may not have a month named to celebrate your contributions, but we appreciate you more than you can imagine – and need your help to do this important work!

If we are to avoid the third wave, we will need to work together to save us all.

-Tom Royer, Beech Brook President/CEO

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