Group of 6 Vermont Lawmakers Introduce 4 Bills on Childhood Trauma


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A bus pulls up to a school for Pre-K to eighth grade.

A preschooler wearing only a diaper, carrying a lunch box (which turns out to be empty), gets off the bus.

This was the shocking testimony by Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Rieber to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Working Group as he shared how childhood trauma like poverty and neglect affects what judges, educators, and social workers are seeing.

The Vermont legislature established the six-member ACEs Working Group in 2017 to look at the health and human services landscape with regards to childhood trauma and science behind ACEs.

In 2018, the group introduced four ACE-related bills to improve trauma support and treatment within state government, health care and education.

Legislative Working Group

In May, 2017, the Vermont Governor approved a bill (Act 43), authored by Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, establishing an interim ACEs Working Group of six legislative members. The group is tasked with analyzing existing resources related to building resilience in early childhood and propose appropriate structures for the most evidence-based or evidence-informed and cost-effective approaches to serve children experiencing trauma.

Although more conservative than previous bills introduced, this bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Many give credit to Rep. George Till, a physician, who introduced several ACE-related bills in recent years, according to Elizabeth Pruitt of Aces Too High.

“It takes time to educate, but it is well worth it,” said Rep. Theresa Wood, a member of the House Committee on Human Services, according to Pruitt. “The unanimous votes in the House and Senate reflect the value of that work.”

Vermont State Senator Virginia (Ginny) Lyons.

The act also required the Agency of Human Services to present a plan to address the integration of evidence-informed and family-focused prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery services for individuals affected by adverse childhood experiences by January 15, 2019.

The Working Group consists of Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, Rep. Anne Donahue, Rep. Mike Mrowicki, Rep. Kate Webb, Sen. David Soucy, and Sen. Becca Balint.

Through the duration of 2017, the Working Group held six hearings and heard the testimony of more than 60 witnesses, some from professionals and some from those with lived experiences.

“The way to address this is like what we did with smoking 50 years ago,” said Rep. Mike Mrowicki according to Wendy M. Levy with The Commons. “Whereas smoking was once prevalent, through a robust public health campaign the dangers of smoking have become well known; smoking is now banned in most public buildings, and the culture has changed.

In January 2018, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Working Group issued a report, Report of Act 43 Legislative Working Group for Childhood Trauma/ACEs.

“That research shows clearly that trauma is all too often the link between generations that keeps families stuck in the cycles of generational poverty, special education needs, lack of success in school, drug/alcohol abuse/ addiction, chronic homelessness, having chronic health needs, and in many cases, early death,” the report says.

In the report, the group provided numerous suggestions to reduce and/or provide support for those who experience early childhood trauma:

  • Vermont’s Youth Risk Behavior Study should measure childhood trauma
  • Service providers should consider the needs of multiple generations
  • Staff in education, human services, and the courts should be trained in trauma-informed care
  • Address childhood trauma as a public health problem

In line with these suggestions, the group introduced four bills in the state legislature.

4 Bills on ACEs

As a result of their findings, members of working group introduced the following four bills in 2018:

  • Mrowicki sponsored H.578, An Act Related to Establishing the Coordinator of Trauma Informed Systems and the Childhood Trauma Tri-Branch Commission
  • Donahue sponsored H.579, An Act related to Trauma Informed Care in Mental Health Settings
  • Webb sponsored H.580, An Act Related to Trauma Informed Policies in Educational Settings
  • Lyons sponsored S.261, An Act Relating to Mitigating Trauma and Toxic Stress During Childhood by Strengthening Child and Family Resilience

On March 14, 2018, the state Senate approved S.261 and sent it to the House.

Sen. David Soucy called S.261 “one of the most important bills that we will look at this session,” according to Mike Faher of the VTDigger.

What can you do?

If you live in Vermont, contact your state representatives and tell them what you think. You find out who they are here.

If you don’t live in Vermont, search for ACE-related bills in your state legislature. If you don’t find any, contact your state representatives about starting an Adverse Childhood Experiences Working Group.

And learn more about ACEs and Latinos here:

Research: Childhood Trauma in Latino Kids

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Expected rise in Latino cancer cases in coming years

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