Protecting Children's Futures with Prevention

What if all adults were equipped with evidence-based strategies to prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders in children?

Photo of Jason Fruth
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As an elementary school teacher for 8 years, I saw the deterioration of mental health in my students. These trends prompted my research and eventual university appointment to study and remediate these social problems. Today, we have accessible science that is proven to treat and even prevent mental emotional and behavioral disorders that present the most clear and present danger to our economy, safety, and health of our society.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Ohio

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Dayton, Columbus, Lima, Ottawa, Bowling Green, Akron,

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

A full one out of two U.S. 18 year-olds qualify for a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. This leaves over 75% of 17-24 year-olds unqualified for military service. Over 40 million children are on at least one psychotropic medication. This contributes to children’s mental health being the single largest expense for Medicaid and S-CHIP. This epidemic spans across race, gender, geography, and socioeconomic status.

In 2016, schools and communities around the world, however none more prevalent than the state of Ohio, are addressing this epidemic with a proven curriculum. This strategy, known as the PAX Good Behavior Game, is a universal preventive intervention recommended by the Institute of Medicine, recognized in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and also shown by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to have a return on investment of 54:1 – higher than any other social program. This classroom-based intervention is carried out by teachers trained in the program and is packed with research-based strategies convening scientific breakthroughs in neuroscience, behavior analysis, developmental psychology, and even age-old cultural wisdom. The origin of the strategy lies in University of Kansas applied behavior analysis and was later refined by Johns Hopkins University where multiple cohort longitudinal studies remain ongoing and boast gaudy outcomes such as 60 more minutes of instructional time in the classroom, 70% reduction in problematic classroom behavior, 20% drop in students identified for special education services, and 60% reduction in major behavioral offenses. These drastic changes to the classroom environment dramatically improve teachers’ ability to teach and students’ ability to learn, grow, and develop. However, the truly eye-popping outcomes from the PAX Good Behavior Game come when the children exposed to the lessons in empathy, self-regulation, and behavior for even one year in the classroom reach adulthood. At age 21, adults who were exposed to the strategy as schoolchildren see 35% less alcohol abuse, 68% less smoking addiction, 50% less illicit drug dependence, as well as drastic decreases in dropout rates, violent crime, social service use, suicide ideation, and risky sexual behavior. This project proposes a national "scale-up" of this proven intervention in order to improve the health, safety, and prosperity of our nation and world using science to once again save society from destruction as we have in the past. This project proposes making these evidence-based practices accessible to every school and community - not just the well-funded, well-connected but all communities. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Childcare
  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages, and the next step will be growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Behavior strategies in this intervention include reduced allocated time to reduce procrastinating and disruptive behavior. Non-verbal cues allow teachers to avoid confusion in delivering clear expectations. Praise notes of performance to promote the identification of pro-social behavior. Random calling engages hyperactive and shy students while calming nervous and distressed students. Randomized reinforcers along with interdependent group contingencies increase teamwork and cooperation, jumpstart. Relational frames allow students and the teacher to get on the same page quickly in regards to boundaries for both parties. All this results in a calm, happy classroom where teachers and students operate in a productive healthy environment.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Dr. Fruth trained 388 Ohio teachers in the intervention last year - impacting 9700 students statewide this year alone. This has equipped teachers with evidence-based practices to teach the self-regulation students need in order to become effective citizens and adults. For these 9700 students, research predicts: 594 additional boys will graduate from high school, 947 more girls will graduate from high school, 103 fewer young people will be convicted of violent crimes, 1026 fewer young people will develop serious drug addictions, 701 fewer young people will become regular smokers, 378 fewer young people will develop an addiction to alcohol, and 834 fewer young people will need any kind of special service treatment. This saves Ohio and U.S. taxpayers an estimated $138,923,000 in the decreased need in public services for these children through adulthood.

Organization Type

  • government

Annual Budget

  • over $5mil

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

For this proposal, I'm calling for state departments and other interested parties from all 50 states to prop up pilot implementations of this evidence-based practice to serve as a positive exemplar for the rest of the national, local, and funding agencies to replicate. Additionally, this project seeks to inject this intervention in to pre-service teaching at the university level in the model of Wright State University.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Currently, this intervention is available to well-funded agencies and communities is carried out in the 1000s each year. As each individual trained impacts up to 25 children each year, this needs to be scaled up to the 10,000s and 100,000s rapidly. The protection created from mental emotional and behavioral disorders through a mindful expansion of scientifically-proven and ready-to-distribute interventions would utterly change the trajectory of health, safety, and prosperity in the nation.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Reaching the whole child is vital. What if all adults were equipped with evidence-based practices including the babysitter, piano teacher, baseball coach, girl scout leader, and Sunday school teacher. The science is clear and available. The time is now to address mental emotional and behavioral disorders for all children.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Attachments (1)


National Network for Educational Renewal Support


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ivette Guillermo-McGahee

Jason, thank you for contributing to this initiative.  In an effort to help you improve your project pitch, I would like to point out the following: 1) from the above information, it is not clear how individuals other than teachers will be involved in this project, 2) how does this project compare to other similar ones and what unique value does it offer?, 3) you listed anticipated future impact of this project - do you currently have qualitative or quantitative data to illustrate the impact of this project in Ohio schools?  Looking forward to your response! 

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