Jay Edwards

Rep. Edwards at press conference March 29, 2017. Photo courtesy of the Ohio House of Representatives.

Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, introduced legislation last week that would create a commission to study adverse childhood experiences that he says causes barriers in the lives of Ohio youth.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Commission would gather experts to study the phenomenon and advise the General Assembly on possible solutions.

ACEs are potentially traumatizing events or circumstances that occur from birth to age 17. Some ACEs are direct events, such as exeriencing abuse, violence or neglect. Others are environmental, such as seeing violence at home or in the community. Family instability due to substance use, mental illness, incarceration, and attempted or completed suicide also are ACEs.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website on ACEs says childhood trauma is “linked to chronic health problems, mental illness and substance abuse problems in adulthood.”

In his testimony to the Behavioral Health and Recovery Supports Committee, Edwards said the bill has the potential to benefit the youth of Ohio.

“I think the proposal before you has the potential to be a tremendous resource and have a positive and meaningful impact on public policy and, more importantly, the lives of young people,” Edwards said. “This isn’t a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. This bill is about helping Ohio children achieve their God-given potential.”

Ohio ranks 46th in the nation for kids with high levels of early childhood trauma, Gail Pavliga, R-Portage County, and who is a joint sponsor of the bill, said.

“Something must be done to properly find a solution and address this unfortunate issue,” Pavliga said in her testimony.

Their bill would create a 14-member commission comprising academic and professional experts on childhood trauma, suicide and substance abuse; law enforcement with experience in community violence; a current or former judge; a representative from the Department of Jobs and Family Services; and two members each from the Ohio House and Senate.

The commission would collect and analyze data on ACEs and recommend legislative strategies to the General Assembly for addressing the prevalence and effects of trauma.

”The fact is, we have the expertise in this great state to solve problems and that’s what we’re doing with this bill: bringing people together to solve problems and identify real solutions,” Edwards said in his testimony.

However, such expertise already exists — the press release announcing the bill even quotes from it.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio — a nonprofit founded in 2003 by health foundations around the state to provide independent, nonpartisan analysis on health policy ­— has been studying ACEs since 2019. Its ACEs Advisory Group includes Brie Lusheck, deputy director of Gov. Mike DeWine’s Office of Children’s Initiatives; Stephanie Siddens, interim superintendent of Ohio public schools; and Anita Armstrong of the Ohio Department of Education’s Head Start Collaboration Office, among other government officials.

HPIO’s policy briefs and recommendations are based in research it commissioned from Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. Anirudh Ruhil, professor of leadership and public service, and former Voinovich economist Christelle Khalaf have analyzed data from CDC, which surveys more than 400,000 Americans by telephone annually for its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

Among their findings is that nearly two-thirds of Ohioans — two out of every three adults — has been exposed to at least one of the experiences on the ACEs list. That figure was quoted in the press release announcing Edwards’ and Pavliga’s bill.

Subsequent analysis showed that that the long-term effects of ACEs — chronic health problems, substance misuse and mental illness — cost the state billions every year. Addressing just 10% of costs associated with childhood trauma, they found, could save more than $1 billion in state expenditures, $10 billion in healthcare costs and $319 million in lost wages.

In August, HPIO released a list of 12 “cost-beneficial strategies that state leaders can use” to prevent childhood trauma. Among its recommendations are investments in early childhood education, social and emotional instruction in schools, training for parents/caregivers and behavioral health treatment.

“This is long overdue and should be a part of every state’s health assessment and health policy framework, especially now that the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem,” Ruhil said. “I see it as no different from ensuring every child has three square meals a day, a roof over their head, and learning opportunities.”

House Bill 428 awaits further hearings.

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