Dr. Angela Rabbitt, left, speaks with Gov. Scott Walker and first lady Tonette Walker on Tuesday in a room where young trauma victims are taken at the Treehouse Child Wellness Center in Elkhorn. Rabbitt is an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a child abuse pediatrician.


Gov. Scott Walker touted Rock County’s trauma-informed care program Tuesday morning in Elkhorn, saying it has made strides in “understanding the stress” of physical and mental trauma on children.

The governor and first lady Tonette Walker—who has championed such programs—made the comments during a visit to The Tree House Child and Family Center in Walworth County. The two led discussions with local and state child wellness and abuse specialists during their first stop in promoting Wisconsin’s Trauma-Informed Care Day.

The Walkers pointed to Rock County Human Services Director Kate Luster as a leader in county trauma-informed care.

Tonette Walker praised Luster’s department for helping reform juvenile court protocols to accommodate victims of childhood trauma. Changes have included an overhaul of court scheduling, courtrooms that are more comfortable for families and revisions to hearing procedures.

“They’ve changed the way they do business, and that’s really what we’re doing with trauma-informed care,” Tonette Walker said.

“We’re asking an organization to hold up a mirror to themselves, to shift the perspective on the work that they do within their own organizations so that, in turn, they can really bring that to the children and families they serve.”

Rock County far exceeds the state average in the number of children who experience trauma, Luster said. More children are entering government-sponsored care and staying longer, mostly because of the county’s opioid and drug epidemics, she said.

To aid those victims, the human services department is educating its staff in hopes that “we can externally apply those same principles and be more effective,” Luster said.

“We need to respond accordingly, both in our workforce and our client populations, to apply treatments, strategies, relationships and interventions that are responsive to those adverse experiences and help to build on resilience,” she said.

Tuesday’s event furthers the Walkers’ advocacy for statewide trauma-informed care. A $100 million school safety bill Scott Walker signed in March includes an amendment requiring school staff to undergo training in trauma-informed care and adverse childhood experiences before their school districts receive safety funding.

Tonette Walker said 25 counties have adopted trauma-informed care programs in the past seven years. Scott Walker—a Republican seeking re-election to a third term as governor—said he wants similar programs in all 72 counties.

“Our goal is to be the first state in the nation that is trauma informed,” Tonette Walker said.

Some 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women nationally will experience at least one trauma in their lifetimes, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. While some victims might not show symptoms, those who endure “repeated, chronic or multiple traumas are more likely to exhibit pronounced symptoms,” according to the department.

Those symptoms could include substance abuse, mental illness or lifelong physical health problems, according to the department.

Trauma-informed care is “something that applies everywhere, whether it’s dealing with a neglect case, or it could be as simple as someone’s interaction with a state agency, a county agency, a local agency,” Scott Walker said.

He said shifting the conversation around victims of trauma “can make it easier for people to get the help and assistance they need.”

“Everyone has a role to play with this,” Tonette Walker added. “So I say from the bus driver to the superintendent of schools … if you touch the life of a child, then you need to know about trauma-informed care.”

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