Gov. Mike DeWine speaks at the Building Resiliency youth mental health summit in Dayton on Thursday, Sept. 26. Staff photo
Photo: Mehaffie, Steve (CMG-Dayton)
Photo: Mehaffie, Steve (CMG-Dayton)

Youth mental health work ‘more important than ever’ after tornadoes, shooting

The work of youth mental health providers has become more important than ever in the wake of the tornadoes and mass shooting this year, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said.

That’s why local leaders put together a day-long pediatric mental health summit Thursday at Sinclair Community College called Building Resiliency.

“It is no secret that Dayton has had a pretty rough summer,” Whaley said

The event was expanded to address all forms of childhood trauma and nearly 800 people from across Ohio attended.

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The Dayton Daily News’ Path Forward project investigates solutions to the region’s most pressing issues, including the Miami Valley’s mental health.

The summit participants included teachers, counselors, medical professionals, parents, police officers and community members interested in improving the lives of children across the state.

“Everyone can be a force for change for kids,” Gov. Mike DeWine said.

The goal was to offer tangible strategies that anyone who interacts with kids can use to help children overcome adversity — whether from parental drug use, displacement of their home, poverty or abuse.

“Ohio has a challenge,” DeWine said. “When you look at trauma, unfortunately we rank pretty high.”

The opioid crisis, economic recession and other factors have put children here at risk of the long-term negative effects of adverse childhood experiences, he said.

“Children exposed to turmoil tend to have poor life outcomes,” DeWine said. “We can’t have kids unsee what they’ve seen … but any adult who has contact with kids can make a difference.”

DETAILS: ‘Kids coming to school with more trauma:’ Here’s what local schools are doing

For keynote speaker Mark Anthony Garrett, that adult was his third grade teacher. Her message that “you are significant” guided him from a traumatic childhood to a successful career as a child advocate, author and sought-after inspirational speaker.

Garrett grew up in the foster system in Dayton. His childhood included poverty, homelessness, abandonment, and physical and sexual abuse. As a teen he joined a gang, became addicted to drugs and was involved with the juvenile justice system.

“I’m a kid who almost didn’t make it,” Garrett said. “I shouldn’t be here.”

Without the belief of that teacher that he could thrive, Garrett said he knows he’d be in prison or dead today.

“We can save children’s lives one at a time,” he said. “The more resilient children we have, the greater our country is.

Participants could choose one of three tracks for the day’s sessions depending on their role — education, medical, or parent and community.

Breakout sessions were led by state and local leaders in each of those fields, including Kimberly Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services; Lori Criss, director of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services; and Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of schools.

READ MORE: Local teen suicide survivor: ‘Things really do get better’

Speakers in the sessions shared projects they’re involved in across the state that could be replicated in other areas like “Parents on Point,” a community-based support group for caregivers of children ages 2 to 5 in Cincinnati that helps build skills and confidence in parents.

“We hope everyone leaves here with one, two, three tangible things they can do,” DeWine said.

Leslie Herrmann said a session on prevention gave her new perspective as a family engagement specialist with Action for Children in Columbus.

“It just really opened up a new view of how I can be the best advocate for families,” she said.

Sessions were recorded and will be available through the governor’s website for those who could not attend.

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