Why Southeast Ohio

Southeast Ohio's kids need concentrated care and investment

If the Appalachian counties of Ohio were combined into a separate state, it would be the second-most economically distressed state in the country, according to a 2019 study by the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health. And this economic disparity takes a toll. The children of Southeast Ohio suffer the most when state budgets are cut, or the economy enters a downturn. Less economic diversity, a smaller and poorer tax base, and the brain drain phenomenon are factors that, when compounded, make our communities less resilient in the midst of crisis. 

Southeast Ohio has an acute need for concentrated care and investment. In 2016, the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio (CDF-Ohio) published a report titled, Ohio’s Appalachian Children at a Crossroads: A Roadmap for Action. The report highlights the measurable disparities in the health and well-being of Appalachian Ohio's youth when compared to the rest of the state of Ohio.


Ohio cannot, and should not, leave these children behind. Read on to learn more.

Concentrated Poverty


In the State of Ohio, the top twelve counties with the highest rates of child poverty in the state are located in Appalachia. Child poverty increased in every Appalachian county from 2000 to 2013, and nearly one in three Appalachian children under the age of six live below the poverty level.


Poorer communities have fewer dollars to leverage into their school systems, and as a result, this region’s schools struggle to provide the learning options that all children deserve. Despite the region's school systems being poorer on average, our schools spend more on transportation across winding rural roads, addressing the high rate of trauma and abuse among their students, and providing food and clothing to low-income children. 

Exposed to Drugs


Babies born in Appalachian Ohio are almost twice as likely as the Ohio average to be diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. In fact, Nine of the top 10 counties with the highest rates of NAS in Ohio are in Appalachia. Babies with NAS often require longer hospital stays than other newborns so that they can receive treatment for withdrawal, which in turn increases hospitalization costs. Statewide in 2013, the average inpatient charge was four times higher for NAS infants, and their hospital stays were four times longer than for all Ohio infants. 

High rates of substance abuse have impacts from the womb far into adulthood for Appalachian children. When parents overdose or go to prison, children are left being raised by grandparents or couch surfing. These children and teenagers are hard to track and support. Students who are raised by grandparents may also experience a lack of technological support at home, making it difficult for them to keep up in an increasingly technology driven world.  


Acute Care Access

Ohio has six children’s hospitals, but none are located in Appalachia. Those who have the resources often travel to metropolitan centers such as Columbus or Cincinnati for care. All but four Appalachian counties (Clermont, Jefferson, Mahoning, and Trumbull) were designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas in 2015. The Appalachian Children Coalition has identified the lack of an acute, in-patient treatment center for children in need of care as a primary issue of concern for our members. 


The Shortage of Child Behavioral Health Specialists

Local schools lack the funding necessary to hire behavioral health specialists qualified to deal with students with special needs. Children in need of professional help often go without, and the entire classroom is compromised. State and federal policymakers must allocate the resources necessary for rural, Appalachian schools to hire and retain these vital specialists. They must also do more to incentivize the education, recruitment, and placement of behavioral health specialists in Southeast Ohio. The Appalachian Children Coalition has identified the shortage of child behavioral health specialists as a primary issue of concern for our members.



Lack of Broadband Access

The chasm that already existed between rural and metropolitan communities has widened because of rural America’s lack of access to this fundamental technology. Yet this divide is not a technological problem, but a political one. On average across Appalachian Ohio, broadband is far, far less available than for the rest of the State of Ohio. And this broadband shortage disproportionately impacts children, who cannot travel on their own to access the internet.


From e-school to telemedicine, the broadband divide is no longer tolerable in the midst of COVID-19, and state and federal policy makers must act now to rectify this wrong. The Appalachian Children Coalition has identified the broadband gap as a primary issue of concern for our members.

Watch our Board Member, Robin Burrow, speak on a panel with the Columbus Metropolitan Club about Bridging the Digital Divide. 


The Philanthropy Gap

Relative to the State of Ohio on average, a significant gap exists in the philanthropic resources available for Appalachian causes. According to 2015 research from the Foundation Center and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, this region has only $762 philanthropic dollars per capita versus $7,437 per capita outside the area. The ten-fold difference between philanthropic resources in Appalachian Ohio when compared to the rest of the State of Ohio manifests in a lack of after school programming for kids, college prep for youth, and other, much-needed children’s programs.

Source: Foundation Center 2015, used with permission from Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.