Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed into law on March 22 a resolution (H.C.R. 10) to encourage state policy and programs to incorporate the science of adverse childhood experiences to address “severe emotional trauma and other adverse childhood experiences” in children and adults and implement evidence-based interventions to increase resiliency. The resolution was approved unanimously on March 7 by the Republican-dominated legislature.
As the final days of the legislature approached, Gov. Herbert described the session as almost a “bipartisan love fest.” Utah legislators work in an unusually bipartisan manner, voting unanimously on many bills with members of one party giving their support to the other party’s legislation. In an editorial in the Salt Lake Tribute titled “A hopeful glimmer of political cooperation found in, of all places, the Utah Legislature” noted that while Democrats hold only 17% of the seats, they won a “more-than-respectable 53 percent of the time.”
A detailed context for the recommendations was included in the several pages-long “Whereas” section, comprising 15 items outlining the impact of ACEs on health, school performance, employment success, and life expectancy. Some of the language is similar to resolutions passed in California and Wisconsin. Unlike the California and Wisconsin resolutions, the Utah resolution is “concurrent” meaning that both bodies of the legislature—House and Senate—as well as the governor concur, indicating the support of the whole state government.
The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) looked at 10 types of childhood trauma: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to alcohol or other substances or who’s depressed or has other mental illnesses; experiencing parental divorce or separation; having a family member who’s incarcerated, and witnessing a mother being abused. Other subsequent ACE surveys include racism, witnessing violence outside the home, bullying, losing a parent to deportation, living in an unsafe neighborhood, and involvement with the foster care system. Other types of childhood adversity can also include being homeless, living in a war zone, being an immigrant, moving many times, witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing a father or other caregiver being abused, involvement with the criminal justice system, attending a zero-tolerance school, etc.
The ACE Study found that the higher someone’s ACE score – the more types of childhood adversity a person experienced – the higher their risk of chronic disease, mental illness, violence, being a victim of violence and a bunch of other consequences. The study found that most people (64%) have an ACE score of one; 12% of the population has an ACE score of 4. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and cancer. It increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700 percent and the risk of attempted suicide by 1200 percent. (For more information, go to ACEs Science 101. To calculate your ACE and resilience scores, go to: Got Your ACE Score?)
The ACE Study also found that it didn’t matter what the types of ACEs were. An ACE score of 4 that included divorce, physical abuse, an incarcerated family member and a depressed family member had the same statistical health consequences as an ACE score of 4 that included living with an alcoholic, verbal abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect.
The ACE Study is one of five parts of ACEs science, which also includes how toxic stress from ACEs damage children’s developing brains, how toxic stress from ACEs cause chronic diseases, and how it can affect our genes and be passed from one generation to another (epigenetics), and resilience research, which shows the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal. Resilience research focuses on what happens when organizations and systems integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices, for example in education and in the family court system.
The Utah resolution encourages “all officers, agencies, and employees” of the state, across state government (listing departments of education, human services, workforce services, courts, and corrections) to:
—become informed regarding well-documented detrimental short-term and long-term impacts to children and adults from serious traumatic childhood experiences as outlined above; and
—implement evidence-based interventions and practices that are proven to be successful in developing resiliency in children and adults currently suffering from trauma-related disorders to help them recover from their trauma and function at their full capacity and potential in school, the workplace, and community, family, and interpersonal relationships.
The resolution states that copies of it should be sent to the various state agencies and to all nonprofit entities that contract with the state to provide services to vulnerable children and adults. No funding for programs was included in the bill.
The Utah Coalition for Protecting Childhood — a “statewide effort that aims to engage individual, families, and communities in building secure and healthy childhoods” — drafted the legislation. In January, it hosted a screening of the film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope at the Capitol. The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Edward H. Redd, a physician, participated in a town hall meeting on abuse that also included screening of Resilience, hosted by the Utah Chapter for the Stop Abuse Campaign. Stop Abuse and other organizations supported the resolution. The Senate sponsor is Todd Weiler, an attorney.