Children in Central Ohio and across the state face some significant challenges, says Elizabeth Martinez, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio.
In Franklin County, 69,000 kids are living in poverty and in many circumstances, that’s generational poverty.
About 10 percent of Ohio children have been impacted by parental incarceration.
Ohio also has one of the highest rates of death due to drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Martinez says unfortunately, her organization is starting to see — more anecdotally than from a dataset perspective — more children living with other family members as a result of their parents being impacted by the opioid epidemic.
But she says the question becomes: how do you begin to tackle these issues unless you’ve lifted up the hood and figured out what are the root causes.
“If you want to change a trajectory of any outcome, you have to start with the analysis and figure out what the root causes are,” Martinez says.
Ohio is wrestling with how to stop the bleeding with opioids, for instance. Martinez says that’s an important conversation to have, but it’s equally important to try to get upstream and focus on the children that are being affected.
“We know that we could potentially be dealing with children that end up turning to drugs and turning to some (harmful) behaviors as a way to figure out how to cope with the circumstances of dealing with a parent that has been addicted,” she says.
Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio are using data to mine into these issues.
For example, with more comprehensive data, especially from children in the Columbus City Schools, Martinez says the organization can see daily data records on attendance, behavior and coursework. That’s helped it inform curriculum for its school-based programs and given direction to the support and training it provides to both the children and the volunteers.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio, which has been in existence since 1933, doesn’t look the same as it did even just a few years ago. It is adding more wrap-around services for families. Providing social and emotional support for children isn’t mutually exclusive to enhancing academic outcomes, and family is critical.
“But that takes more resources, it takes more time,” she says. “We’re now working more closely and directly with families in broader ways than we have in previous years.”
Last year, the organization served more than 6,600 kids in one-to-one structured mentoring relationships through its offices in Franklin, Delaware and Union Counties and Springfield and its summer camp and environmental education programs at Camp Oty’Okwa.
It also has four subsidiary affiliates across the state. Those agencies have local boards, but Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio can take on administration and support work like HR, payroll, data and evaluation, marketing and PR, and some grant support.