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Invest Early or Pay Later: Ohio's Early Childhood and Juvenile Justice Systems

Kids in Ohio are among the most likely in the nation to experience high rates of childhood trauma and the vast majority of youth in Ohio’s juvenile courts have likely experienced trauma. The link between childhood trauma and juvenile incarceration creates a cradle to prison pipeline. During the earliest and most critical years of development, children are highly vulnerable to adversity—and high rates of trauma put kids at greater risk for long-term negative impacts on academic success, health, and behavior. Early investments in quality child care, quality preschool, and evidence-based home visiting can help mediate the effects of childhood trauma by increasing a child’s resiliency. Without the buffering impact of resiliency factors, later interventions, like the juvenile justice system, are extremely costly and ineffective in addressing the roots of a child’s behavior.

Ohio is investing too little in the evidence-based programs that we know can improve outcomes for youth, including community-based programs and early childhood education that increases school readiness, increase lifelong success, and reduce an individual’s likelihood of serving jail or prison time by 46%. Instead, we are investing $95 million each year to hold 500 youth in youth prisons that reach children too late, fail to address the root causes of a child’s behavior, and results in a nearly 50% rate of recidivism.

The Bottom Line If we make strategic, evidence-based investments in early childhood education, we can give all kids the opportunity for success, significantly reduce the need for juvenile justice intervention, and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of Ohio’s taxpayer dollars.

Check out our new fact sheet, Invest Early or Pay Later: Ohio's Early Childhood and Juvenile Justice Systems, to learn more! Thank you to the Juvenile Justice Coalition for working with us to create this resource.

Check out our new fact sheet, Invest Early or Pay Later: Ohio's Early Childhood and Juvenile Justice Systems, to learn more! Thank you to the Juvenile Justice Coalition for working with us to create this resource.


This week, the Vote for Ohio Kids campaign released the names of the 62 coalition members to join Groundwork Ohio, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and 45 business and community leaders thus far calling for Ohio’s next governor to make kids a priority.

“The case for investing in early childhood education and healthcare is clear—whether you consider the substantial benefits to kids or the significant economic impact for our state,” said Shannon Jones, Executive Director of Groundwork Ohio. “Our strong coalition sends a clear message to Ohio’s next governor: it’s time to put Ohio kids front and center.”

The coalition is urging both gubernatorial nominees to participate in the Vote for Ohio Kids Leadership Forum on September 27 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. This Forum, supported by business, education, healthcare and child advocacy leaders, will give gubernatorial candidates the opportunity to hear from experts and share their plans for investing in our youngest Ohioans.

“The lack of accessible, quality healthcare and early education for Ohio kids has impacted more than our schools and health systems,” said Nick Lashutka, President and CEO of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association. “This is why the Vote for Ohio Kids consensus agenda is supported by so many organizations and community leaders from across the state. Our next governor needs to recognize the urgent need to invest in quality early education and healthcare for Ohio kids now—we can’t afford to wait.”


Equity is fulfilling people’s needs so they can enjoy a full and healthy life. It is a just and fair solution for inclusion into society where all are equipped to participate and prosper—­thus reaching full potential. For our youngest learners, equity means providing the necessary resources so that each child’s health and educational achievement are not predictable by race, class, geography, language, gender or other relevant social factors.

Gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged children begin emerging as early as 9 months of age. For example, by age 3, low-income learners have half the vocabulary of their high-income peers. Gaps continue to widen, leaving disadvantaged children up to two years behind by age 5. Connections that form early provide either a strong or weak foundation for the connections that form later. The mental and physical health, social skills and cognitive capacities laid in a child’s earliest years are critically important for success in school, the workplace and the larger community. We must recognize that achieving equitable outcomes does not require equality (giving all children the same), but does require equity (giving each child what they need to succeed). It is important to recognize that while each child has the ability to reach their highest potential, every child has unique gifts and challenges. Want to learn more about the Ohio Early Childhood Race and Rural Equity Report? Check out

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