Season 2 Guests

Julie Ahnen

Manager of Child Protective Services
Dane County Department of Human Services

Julie Ahnen is a native of Madison, WI, and a graduate of the University of WI-Madison, receiving a graduate degree in Social Work in 1984. She has practiced professionally as a Social Worker since October of 1984, holding a variety of positions in the non-profit and private sector in the Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX area during her first 10 years of practice. Ms. Ahnen began employment with the Dane County Department of Human Services in June of 1995 where she has held a variety of positions within Child Protective Services as a line Social Worker and as a CPS Supervisor. Ms. Ahnen has been the Manager of Child Protective Services in Dane County since March of 2010.

Clare Anderson

Senior Policy Fellow
Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Clare Anderson is a Senior Policy Fellow at Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. She uses research, policy, and fiscal levers to improve outcomes for children, youth, and families. Anderson engages child welfare agencies, stakeholders, and constituents in large-scale system change. This includes guiding states to implement the Family First Prevention Services Act. Additionally, Anderson is a national thought leader on economic and concrete supports as core to prevention of child welfare involvement, and the development of a family and child well-being system that prioritizes family support and cross-sector partnerships.

Prior to joining Chapin Hall, Anderson was Deputy Commissioner at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF). There, she provided leadership for federal programs including child welfare, runaway and homeless youth, domestic and intimate partner violence, and teen pregnancy prevention. During her tenure at ACYF, Anderson co-led the development and implementation of a national well-being policy agenda. She was among the chief architects of the effort to address trauma, adverse childhood experiences, and toxic stress in children known to child welfare. Anderson spent a decade at the Center for the Study of Social Policy helping states and urban jurisdictions change policies and practices to improve outcomes. This included initiatives such as Family to Family and Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, as well as federal court-ordered monitoring of child welfare agencies. Anderson started her career as a frontline social worker.

Anderson holds a Master of Social Work from the University of Alabama.

Amy Baldus

Family Support Worker
Children’s Wisconsin’s Stevens Point office

As a Family Support Worker, Amy’s role is to build connections between the family and community. Before starting with Children’s Wisconsin in 2016, Amy had over 20 years of experience working directly with children in various childcare settings. Amy feels her work is important because she believe it’s essential for every parent to feel valued and proud. Being a parent is hard, and knowing they are not alone in this and having someone rooting for them and supporting them can make all the difference in the world.

Mark Cabaj

Here to There Consulting Inc.

Mark is President of the consulting company From Here to There and an Associate of Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement. While studying the Solidarity movement in Krakow, Poland, in mid-1989, Mark experienced a variety of tumultuous events that signaled the end of communism in Eastern Europe – including walking on the Berlin Wall with a million people the week it came down in November 1989. He worked as an Investment Advisor in Poland’s Foreign Investment Agency, the Foreign Assistance Coordinator for Grants in the new Ministry of Privatization, and the Mission Coordinator for the creation of the United Nations Development Program’s first regional economic development initiative in Eastern Europe.

Back in Canada, Mark was the Coordinator of the Waterloo Region’s Opportunities 2000 project (1997-2000), an initiative that won provincial, national and international awards for its multi-sector approach to poverty reduction. He served as Executive Director of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) (2001) before joining the Tamarack Institute and becoming Executive Director of Vibrant Communities Canada (2002-2011).

Mark’s current focus is on developing practical ways to understand, plan and evaluate efforts to address complex issues. This includes addressing the systemic roots underlying issues related to poverty and homelessness, community safety, educational achievement, health and climate change. He is particularly involved in developing and promoting developmental evaluation, a new approach to assessment which emphasizes real time feedback and learning in emerging, messy and often fast-moving environments.

Mark lives in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) with his wife Leann and their children Isaiah and Zoë.

Micaela Conlon-Bue

Prevention Supervisor
Children’s Wisconsin’s Black River Falls and Marshfield offices

Micaela has actively engaged in the culture of learning her entire adult life. She served five years in the United States Navy (USN) flying combat missions in HH-60 helicopters. After her service, Micaela attended The University of Minnesota where she completed her undergraduate and Master’s degrees. Micaela also worked at The University of Minnesota’s Youth Development Leadership Program and partnered with faculty to start a community based research program, Learning Dreams, which expanded across five elementary schools, three high schools, and two major metropolitan cities. Micaela’s programming efforts at Learning Dreams have gone on to impact state and local policies and contributed to educational theory on the importance of community in determining educational success and civic engagement. Micaela moved to Black River Falls after getting married in 2021. Micaela is the proud mother of four beautiful children and enjoys spending time with her family.

Laura Glaub

Lead Social Worker
Madison Metropolitan School District

Laura Glaub is lead social worker for Madison Metropolitan School District. She has had the honor of being in the school district for 12 years in various roles that have supported students and families in 4k-12 grade level as an AmeriCorps member, director of after school programming, elementary social worker and now in the lead role. In all these roles, Laura has had the opportunity to create connections with students, families and community members that continue to question and dismantle systems to create a true community of care, love, and support.

Tim Grove

Senior Director of Trauma Informed Strategy and Practice
Wellpoint Care Network

Tim Grove, MSSW, is a senior consultant at Wellpoint Care Network (formerly SaintA), a human services agency whose mission it is to facilitate equity, learning, healing and wellness for all. He has over 25 years of professional experience in a variety of direct care, administrative and executive positions. Tim created, developed and lead Wellpoint’s Trauma Informed Care (TIC) initiatives. He created a TIC training curriculum centered around the Seven Essential Ingredients, or 7ei, of understanding and practicing TIC. Tim and the training team at Wellpoint have used the 7ei framework to train more than 60,000 people from diverse disciplines over the past 15 years.
Tim is an Affiliate of the Institute for Child and Family Well-being.

Tim is a Mentor with Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neuroseqential Network and a Master Trainer in Dr. Rob Anda and Laura Porter’s ACE Interface curriculum. Tim and the Wellpoint team’s work has been highlighted and published in a number of magazines, journals and newspapers. He was the lead project manager of a three year research study on the effectiveness of 7ei in child welfare outcomes which demonstrated positive effect on creating placement stability and permanency for kids. Tim is recognized nationally as a trauma informed care expert and was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for a 60 Minutes segment on trauma and resilience.

Linda Hall

Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health

The well-being of children has been a primary focus of Linda’s career in health and mental health policy.  She has pursued this children’s well-being and increased support for families agenda at the National Governors’ Association, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Kids Forward, as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Association of Family & Children’s Agencies – an association for family-serving organizations, and as Interim Director for Community Partnerships – the Dane County wraparound program.  Linda holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Masters in Theology with a specialization in Ethics from McCormick Theological Seminary.  Since being appointed by Governor Evers in 2019 to lead the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health, she has had the privilege of collaborating with state and mental health leaders, youth with lived experience, and parent partners to improve the children’s mental health system and highlight what we all can do to support the well-being of children.

Jessika Harlston

Jessika Harlston is a mother of 3 boys and a Financial Career Planner and Case Manager for individuals and families at Ross Innovative Employment Solutions. In Overloaded, she shares her experience of becoming socially isolated that led to child welfare involvement, and then her powerful story of reconnection with her family and support system. Jessika shares that “so many people look at me as this woman who has it all; when in reality, I am just like everyone else. I cry like everyone else, I struggle like everyone else, and of course, I smile like everyone else. Look at me and see a woman who has been through the trenches and now she creating her own golden brick road one brick at a time.”

Esmeralda Martinez

Parent Advocate
Children’s Wisconsin

Esmeralda Martinez is a lived experience professional and the Parent Advocate for Children’s Wisconsin child welfare ongoing services. Esme is the mother of a toddler and a teenager, is working on a degree in Psychology with a minor in Counseling. She was a victim of childhood trauma, survivor of domestic violence and trafficking, and has had personal child welfare involvement. Today, she is living a healthy, sober life.

Esme serves as a Parent Leader in Child Welfare with the Department for Children and Families. She is also part of the design team for Breaking Barriers, Rightsizing Congregate Care and has been a valued contributor to our Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities initiative.

Diana Maya

Diana Maya es madre de dos hijos y una hija. Ella es Mexicana de Nuevo Leon, y vive hoy en Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Diana escribe “Mi infancia fue en su parte buena viviendo con mi abuela porque mi experiencia con mi mamá no fue muy buena, pero el dia de hoy he perdonado y sanado.”

Diana Maya is the mother of two sons and a daughter. She is Mexican from Nuevo Leon, and lives today in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Diana writes, “My childhood was at times good living with my grandmother because my experience with my mom wasn’t very good, but now I have forgiven and healed.”

Josh Mersky

Institute for Child and Family Well-Being

Joshua Mersky is a founding director of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Helen Bader School of Social Welfare. Dr. Mersky’s research interests include child maltreatment and other adverse experiences that undermine health and well-being over the life course. He is dedicated to working with local and state partners to translate evidence into real-world solutions that improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families. Dr. Mersky applies his expertise to the design, application, evaluation, and dissemination of effective practices, programs, and policies. He is currently the lead evaluator of the Family Foundations Home Visiting program, a partnership between the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and Department of Health Services that supports evidence-based home visiting programs statewide. He also heads the Healthy Families Study, a randomized trial of multiple home visiting programs at the Milwaukee Health Department. In addition, Dr. Mersky is principal investigator of the Families and Children Thriving (FACT) Study, a longitudinal investigation into the health and well-being of at-risk children and families across Wisconsin.

Dr. Mersky and Dr. James Topitzes directed Project Connect, a randomized trial of a novel group-based model of parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT) for children in foster care. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin integrated the model into its community services array based on results demonstrating that this intervention enhances the parenting skills of foster care providers and the mental health of children in foster care.

Through his collaborative work at ICFW, Dr. Mersky continues to promote the use of empirically validated interventions such as PCIT and TF-CBT as well as effective and innovative screening and assessment practices within the context of usual care.

Dr. Mersky holds a master’s degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Ph.D. in social welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also earned an advanced certificate in prevention science.

Rebecca Murray

Executive Director
Wisconsin’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board

Rebecca Murray joined the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board in 2011 and is currently the Executive Director.  In her previous position at the Prevention Board, Ms. Murray administer the grants program and provided technical assistance to the Prevention Board grantees. Ms. Murray is a certified trainer for “Bringing the Protective Factors Framework to Life in Your Work” and a Triple P Seminars accredited practitioner. Ms. Murray is also the Executive Director for the Celebrate Children Foundation, the fundraising agency for the Prevention Board. She received her Bachelor’s in Communication Arts and a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire.

Jermaine Reed

Executive Director
Fresh Start Family Services

Jermaine Reed was born and reared in Milwaukee, WI. A 22 year child welfare career veteran, Reed is the first African-American person and foster parent in the history of Wisconsin to privately own a foster care agency. In 2011, he was one of two child welfare leaders in the state chosen to serve on the First Lady of Wisconsin’s “Fostering Futures” Steering Committee focused on advancing trauma informed care in child welfare and other child-and family serving systems; he served in that capacity for 3 years. In 2009, Reed was designated by Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration to lead a focus group on family support in the Governor’s 2009 Summit, Building Bridges to Family Economic Success.  Jermaine has committed his life to working on improving the quality of life for abused and neglected children and youth.  He focuses a lot of his work around partnering with and advising birth, foster and adoptive families, state and local officials, and other stakeholders.  Jermaine is committed to boldly addressing racial disproportionality and disparities in Wisconsin’s foster care system. Since 2010, Jermaine organizes and convenes the only child welfare conference in the nation that solely focuses on the needs of Black children, youth, and their families involved in foster care and juvenile justice systems. Each year there are between 450+ participants in attendance from across the child welfare spectrum.

Since beginning his speaking career in church at the age of 9, Reed has become a respected public speaker in a variety of circles. He infuses comedy, practicality, passion, and truth in all of his presentations. He is masterful in creating safe spaces to have hard conversations.  He is also a community advocate, playwright, and biological and adoptive parent.  Jermaine received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Upper Iowa University and completed master level courses at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Marc Seidl

Child Protection Initial Assessment Supervisor
Brown County Health and Human Services

Marc Seidl is currently a Child Protection Initial Assessment Supervisor with Brown County Health and Human Services. He has been a supervisor with Brown County for over seven years and was an Initial Assessment Social Worker in the field with families for 8 years for both Brown and Outagamie Counties.  Marc has been active in several local multidisciplinary teams involving drug endangered children, abusive injuries in young children and human trafficking.  Marc has presented on panels for NASW-WI’s annual conference in 2020 on how the pandemic was affecting child welfare practice as well as in 2022 on how the pandemic changed child welfare practice.  Marc was also a co-presenter at the 2022 Wisconsin Public Child Welfare Conference session on the changing mindset on Mandated Reporting.

Marc earned his MSW and BSW from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay both with an emphasis in Child Welfare. Marc is a member of the Child Welfare Advisory Committee for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay as well as a member of the National Association of Social Workers and a past member of the Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Chapter.  Marc is also a member of the Wisconsin Human Services Association – Children, Youth and Families Advisory Committee.

Ayesha Teague

Family Support Specialist II
Children’s Wisconsin – Milwaukee office

Ayesha Teague began her career at Children’s Wisconsin in 2014 as a Family Support Specialist, working to support families whose children were placed in out of home care, succeeding a healthy career as an educator of over 12 years. While working to support those families’ needs, she also assisted with supervised visitations and family reunification. Because of her dedication, commitment, and passion to family support and care, Ayesha was promoted to Intensive In-Home Support Specialist, in 2018, where she currently works with families whose children remain in-home. Her endeavors to support families in maintaining a safe environment that enables the child(ren) to remain in their placement is coupled with teaching clients to model behavioral changes and increase their protective capacities.

In 2021 Children’s Wisconsin piloted the Early Intervention Services (EIS) program through DMCPS which has allowed her to intervene with families sooner, while DMCPS conducts their assessments. This early intervention allows Ayesha to provide supportive services and provide resources that prevent further Child Welfare involvement. Because of her involvement in the piloting phase, leadership saw fit for this talented advocate to be promoted to In-Home Training Specialist for the Family Support Program, where she diligently and enthusiastically trains new hires, while leading and supporting a team of specialist, to model appropriate conduct, behavior, and skills to support program participants while controlling safety in the homes.

Liz Weaver

Tamarack Institute

Liz Weaver is the Co-CEO of Tamarack Institute and leads the Tamarack Learning Centre. The Tamarack Learning Centre advances community change efforts by focusing on five strategic areas including collective impact, collaborative leadership, community engagement, community innovation and evaluating community impact. Liz is well-known for her thought leadership on collaborative leadership and collective impact and is the author of several popular and academic papers on the topic. She is a co-catalyst partner with the Collective Impact Forum.   Liz is passionate about the power and potential of communities getting to impact on complex issues.

Uniting Housing and Child Welfare: Pathways to Progress

November 16, 2023

Housing provides a foundation for health, well-being, and prosperity for children, families, and communities. However, many families experiencing having a child separated from their family into foster care experiencing high rates of housing instability. These hurdles, such as limited affordable housing, absentee landlords, eviction, economic and racial divides, and barriers to housing equity further strain families already overloaded by stress.

Metropolitan Milwaukee is enduring a housing crisis, underscored by high eviction rates and a dearth of affordable housing. Over 50% of Milwaukee’s renters are burdened by rent, spending more than 30% of their income on it. The city also reveals a glaring shortfall in affordable rentals, with only 29 homes available for every 100 low-income renters. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that unstable housing situations heighten the risk of child removal due to maltreatment. Furthermore, such instability can plunge parents into economic distress, stress, and mental health issues, heightening family separation risks.

Join MCAPS for a virtual conversation, as we discuss:

  • how housing instability impacts families who have contact with child protective services (CPS),
  • the implications of the current housing context in Milwaukee on child protective services
  • current systemic challenges around housing in Milwaukee
  • lessons learned from a CPS housing voucher program in Kenosha

Our goal is to promote housing solutions that support families overloaded by stress and prevent involvement in the child protective services system.  Your involvement can help champion stable, secure, and affordable housing as a community priority, making a positive difference in family lives.


Watch the webinar recording here 

Community Advocates

Critical Pathways – Economic Stability

Economic security plays a crucial role in reducing stress, contributing to a sense of well-being, and fostering healthy parenting and parent-child interactions. When discussing the biggest challenges that put families at risk for child welfare involvement due to neglect, SFTCCC participants consistently pointed to ‘poverty’, its associated struggles, and the stress it generates as the key obstacles to family functioning and child well-being. Child neglect is more likely in families that are experiencing an overload of stress related to the weight of poverty, which can overload parents’ abilities to provide the supportive relationships children need.

The Ripple Effects of Poverty on Parenting and Family Dynamics

Since the first roundtable, SFTCCC participants have identified poverty as the biggest challenge facing the families they work with, one that people working in family preservation programs feel like they lack tools to address. The stressors of poverty are complex and represent a constellation of challenges, from housing insecurity, economic shocks, lack of access to childcare, food insecurity, and navigating the benefits cliff.

While Wisconsin law states that family separation due to neglect should only happen for reasons other than poverty, economic insecurities are common among families with children entering the foster care system. Nationally, nearly 85% of families investigated by CPS earn below 200% of the poverty line. Children from economically insecure households are more likely to face maltreatment and neglect (Drake, 2014).

Poverty can lead to chronic stress, which negatively impacts parenting and parent-child interactions.

High levels of stress caused by poverty can result in parents becoming more irritable, less patient, and exacerbate mental health and substance use challenges. Parents experiencing financial strain may have limited time and resources to focus on their children’s needs, affecting the quality of their interactions.

When parents are overloaded by the stressors of poverty, it can negatively affect their ability to engage in healthy parenting practices, it harms their mental health, child development, and wellbeing. This includes being less responsive to their child’s needs, having difficulty setting boundaries, and exhibiting harsher discipline methods.

Breaking the Cycle: Supporting Family Economic Stability

To improve parent-child interactions and overall parenting, it is essential to address the root causes of poverty-induced stress and support family economic stability. This includes increasing access to resources such as affordable housing, healthcare, and education, as well as implementing policies to reduce income inequality.

Learning from innovative new initiatives in this space, broadening our network, and collectively advancing policy solutions are all opportunities for SFTCCC participants to contribute to moving forward. By creating a more supportive environment for families, we can help alleviate the stressors associated with poverty, thereby promoting healthy parenting and fostering stronger parent-child relationships.

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Critical Pathways – Workforce Inclusion & Innovation

A stable and diverse family preservation workforce ensures continuity of care, fosters expertise and experience, preserves institutional knowledge, promotes cultural competence, encourages collaboration and innovation, and enhances representation and trust. These factors contribute to the effectiveness and impact of programs that support families overloaded by stress.

Stabilizing and Supporting our Workforce

Surpassing the average for all occupations, employment growth for social workers is expected to increase 9% from 2021-2031, with many separations resulting from workers transferring to other occupations or exiting the labor force (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Turnover in our workforce is costly to families, staff, and the organizations that serve and employ them. Home-visiting workforce turnover and attrition rates are high, with similar shared challenges contributing to separations. Faced with a shortage of resources and 28.9% of workers leaving to take jobs with increased compensation, home-visiting programs will continue to struggle with recruitment and retention (Fitzgerald et. al, 2020).

We believe that innovation plays a pivotal role in shaping our future workforce, yielding stability as it brings forth fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to empower, equip, and support our families and those serving them. Through cultivating and prioritizing an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, and growth, we can build a resilient and adaptable workforce today that is ready to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Diversity Representation and Family Voice in the Workforce

Diversifying our present workforce and elevating and recognizing the contribution of families and staff with lived experience in both prevention services and the child welfare system, is essential for change moving forward. Our current social services workforce still lacks representation from the populations it serves. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, 68.8% of our social work workforce is White (Salsberg et al., 2017). Specifically in prevention, in 2020, 63% of our home-visiting workforce were White (Fitzgerald et. al, 2020). Finally, the most recent State of WI workforce report reveals that within the Department of Children and Families, only 29.2% of its workforce are racial and ethnic minorities.

Peer Support: A Powerful Tool in Prevention

The use of peer supports or paraprofessionals in the workforce could ease struggles around workforce recruitment and make services more accessible. It also offers potential solutions to a workforce lacking in diversity, language skills, and cultural understanding of those it serves. Concurrently, by valuing and developing a career pathway for those with lived experience, use of a peer support model also functions as an economic stability intervention.

The Workforce of the Future

In conclusion, workforce innovation plays a pivotal role in shaping our future workforce, as it brings forth fresh perspectives and diverse experiences. By including individuals with lived experience and providing ample support to our staff, we cultivate an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, and growth. Therefore, it is crucial that we prioritize these elements in order to build a resilient and adaptable workforce of the future.

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Critical Pathways – Social Connectedness

The Importance of Social Connectedness

A child’s community plays a critical role in fostering their growth. For children to truly thrive, they need safe, responsive connections with caring adults. When the adults in their lives have their own needs met, they’re better equipped to respond to the social and emotional needs of their kids.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social connectedness is defined as the relationships people or groups have, which lead to a sense of belonging, being cared for, valued, and supported. When individuals are socially connected, they are better able to navigate life challenges and cope with stress, trauma, adversity, anxiety, and depression.

The Toll of Social IsolationGraphic that reads: Benefits of Social Connectedness Improved mental health and resilience: Being connected to others can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and can provide support during difficult times, leading to better mental well-being and the ability to confront and overcome challenges. Greater sense of belonging: Feeling valued and accepted by a community can foster a sense of purpose and identity. Healthier habits: Being part of a supportive group can encourage individuals to make healthier choices, physically, mentally and socially.

Social isolation is the absence of connectedness to people, community, and therefore, influence and power. Social isolation creates barriers to developing supportive relationships and communities, sharing personal and communal experiences, or forming part of the bigger whole that can build a sense of individual and collective identity.

The toll of social isolation has been shown in recent studies in which nearly 1 in 4 Wisconsinites report that they only sometimes or never get the social and emotional support they need; and only 4 in 10 American adults said that they feel very connected to others in 2022. Even more troubling, caregivers of children, especially mothers and single parents, are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness.

So, what is causing the increased social isolation across our communities? A few examples:

  • Declines in meaningful connection, trust and membership in religious groups, social clubs, and labor unions due to the increase in use of smart phones, social media, remote work and political polarization;
  • Disruption of communities due to loss of industries such as farming and manufacturing;
  • Increased demands on lower-wage earners’ time and energy due to working longer hours and having less money to spend on transportation, social activities, etc.

When we are socially isolated, our health becomes vulnerable to heart attacks, dementia, depression, and early death. Recent studies have compared its impact to smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day. Additionally, when caregivers are socially isolated, they are less likely to have the coping skills AND community such as family and friends to support them when they become overloaded by stress. In these critical moments, children become vulnerable to neglect.

The Path to Social Connectedness

How might we strengthen social connectedness for our communities, caregivers, and children? Social connectedness occurs through family, school, work, and recreational and faith communities. More formally, it occurs through community and cultural events, support groups, and social services. Strengthening social infrastructure is crucial for enhancing community health, resilience, safety, and prosperity.

The goal of SFTCCC is to create and support a movement that shares knowledge and strategies, elevates one another’s efforts, and collaborates intentionally to co-design and advance policy and practice solutions that prevent and reduce social isolation by refocusing our efforts on building community and strengthening social connectedness for families, so that we may reduce family separations for reasons of neglect.

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Critical Pathways – Community Collaboration

Embracing Authentic Community Collaboration

Authentic community collaboration brings together a diverse group of changemakers to share power and learning that animates co-design of solutions for social change that directly impacts their respective communities. By engaging the lived experience of families, communities, service providers, mandated reporters, and organizational and systems leaders, together we can improve systems and service coordination that prioritizes family empowerment and support over mandated reporting. To accomplish this, we will need to reach across many systems, build trust through power-sharing with each other and the families that we serve, so that we may amplify our impact. Together, we can advocate for policy changes, share best practices, and create a network of support that fosters the well-being of families, particularly families of color who have been disproportionately affected by family separations.

Essential Ingredients for Authentic Community Collaboration

  • Open communication: Encourage honest and transparent conversations among changemakers to promote understanding and empathy.
  • Shared language and goals: Establish common language and objectives that everyone can share and understand, ensuring collective efforts are rooted in lived experience and evidence, and focusing on achieving meaningful change.
  • Inclusive decision-making: Involve all those impacted in the decision-making process, respecting the diverse perspectives and experiences they bring to the table.

The Need for Systems Change and Coordination

In Wisconsin, families of color experience disproportionate rates of family separation and longer stays in foster care. Native American and Black families make up about 13% of our population, and yet make up 27% of all reports to Child Protective Services (CPS), 34% of all CPS investigations, 38% of all family separations, and a staggering 47% of group home placements. To truly combat historical inequities that are further exacerbated by family separation, we must advocate for systems change that addresses the root causes of these issues. At the same time, we have nearly 40,000 non-profits statewide that support our children, families and communities, yet families too often need support or services that are unknown to them or hard to access. Our greatest challenges, therefore, lie in how we coordinate our services to ensure that they are meeting the real needs of all that seek them. We must work smarter, not harder, to elevate solutions to ensure all families can access the help they need when they need it. By building bridges between service providers, community organizations, and the families we serve, we can create a more equitable, cohesive, and impactful support network.

The Path to Community Collaboration

By fostering authentic and inclusive community collaboration among our systems, service providers, communities, and families, we can effectively address the historical inequities that have resulted in disproportionate rates of family separations among families of color and poor families. Through co-design with families and service providers, we can shift more efforts and resources towards community empowerment and maltreatment prevention, improve our systems and service coordination, and strengthen social connectedness and trust, which can alleviate the stress that overloads families and reduce the risk of neglect and family separation.

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Podcast Episodes and Show Notes

Season 2

Since you last joined us in season one, our team at the Institute for Child and Family Well-being has been busy learning from the experts that you heard here, community changemakers from across our state, and the latest evidence from lots of reading. Through that learning, we developed four critical pathways that will serve as roadmaps to help us focus our efforts, foster deeper relationships across systems and communities and clarify shared goals.

As a small team, we know that we can’t achieve our goal of reducing family separations for reasons of neglect across the state of Wisconsin on our own. So we hope through this podcast, convenings, and ongoing shared learning that we can serve as a catalyst of change. As my team at the Institute has learned this past year and a half, the evidence may take us and you to new places that lead to better outcomes for families. In this first episode, I talk with my team to introduce this season of the podcast so that they can share with us how we got here, where we’re going, and what you can anticipate hearing from our experts in season two.

In season 2 of Overloaded: Understanding Neglect, we will be confronting complex challenges like poverty, social isolation, and systemic racism that overload families as we explore our Strong Families, Thriving Children, Connected Communities’ four Critical Pathways, our roadmaps for discovering and developing innovative solutions to these wicked problems. Through the first year of our Strong Families initiative, which included season 1 of this podcast series, we were able to align the insights and experiences of those who know these issues best with the evidence that has shown promise in advancing meaningful solutions. This collaborative effort identified four critical pathways – Economic Stability, Social Connectedness, Community Collaboration, and Workforce Inclusion and Innovation – that will shape the future of our initiative that aspires to reduce family separations for reasons of neglect.

Join me, Luke Waldo, as I explore these Critical Pathways with research and policy experts Clare Anderson from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, Mark Cabaj of From Here 2 There, Tim Grove of Wellpoint Care Network, Linda Hall of Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health, my Institute colleague Josh Mersky of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Rebecca Murray of Wisconsin’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, Jermaine Reed of Fresh Start Family Services, Liz Weaver of the Tamarack Institute. Additionally, we will shine a light on these Critical Pathways through the lived experience experts of many of my close colleagues at Children’s Wisconsin’s child welfare and child maltreatment prevention programs and the caregivers with whom they have worked closely.

Season 1

In today’s bonus episode, we brought together some of our Overloaded: Understanding Neglect experts to thank them and celebrate our collective effort that led to this podcast series. But before we went out to celebrate, we sat down to discuss two topics that have become even more relevant, more top of mind for many of us. First, we explored the Legislation and Policy that have been passed, renewed or begun implementation this year. Then, we discussed the challenges and opportunities that we face with our Workforce within our child welfare and maltreatment prevention systems.

In today’s episode, our last in this series, we will be looking back at our previous seven episodes in an effort to elevate our key lessons learned to present a blueprint towards our ultimate goal of supporting overloaded families and reducing family separations for reasons of neglect. We will be looking at them through the lens of the systems change drivers that we have explored over the past many episodes, by looking at the impact of mental models – our beliefs and biases that influence our behavior – and the relationships and power dynamics that connect or divide us in our communities and systems, and how they influence the important policies, practices and allocation of funding and resources that support our systems change strategies and efforts.

In today’s episode, we will be looking at how we might move further upstream from our current child welfare system, with the intent of revealing current strategies, efforts and opportunities to prevent adversity from occurring for children and families. As we discussed in our previous episodes, we will be looking at the impact of mental models – our beliefs and biases that influence our behavior – and the relationships and power dynamics that connect or divide us in our communities and systems, and how they influence the important policies, practices and allocation of funding and resources that support our prevention strategies and efforts.

As you will hear today, there are many prevention strategies that currently exist that we believe, if employed more frequently and effectively, can dramatically lessen the overload that too many families in our communities are carrying. In turn, they can be the nurturing, responsive parents that their children need and deserve; and we can reduce family separations for reasons of neglect.

Today’s episode intends to provide a framework of systems drivers along with some concrete examples of how we might move our child welfare system towards a child and family well-being system. We hope that it provides an initial framework along with some inspiration as to how each of us has the power to influence systems change through the seemingly small acts of compassion and challenging our own biases. Through those small acts real change begins, especially in a system and society where historical inequities and trauma have deep roots that persist today.

How might we challenge those inequities in our policies and practices within our own organizations and communities? How might we share power, leadership and decision-making with those that we serve? And how might we learn from the policies and practices that have allowed families to fall or be separated before we actively supported them? Join us today to hear our experts share their experience with those questions.

In our first four episodes, we explored neglect, three of its underlying root causes in the forms of trauma, systemic oppression, and poverty, and their compounding challenges like housing instability, mental illness, and addiction that further overload families with stress, and can lead to child welfare involvement and family separation. Moving forward, we will shift our focus from the challenges that overloaded families experience to the challenges and opportunities that our complex systems, organizations, and communities face as we aspire to reduce family separations for reasons of neglect.

To begin this shift, we will explore the child welfare system over a two-part episode, beginning today in part 1 as we look more closely at how the system is designed and functions, how policies, which are often created by those furthest away from the most affected communities, dictate practice and resources, and how we are failing overloaded families by not effectively addressing the underlying root causes of neglect that we explored in our first few episodes.

Children thrive when they have regular interactions with responsive, caring adults. Families experiencing significant stressors related to financial insecurity, housing instability, or the impact of systemic racism and trauma can be overloaded with stress, interrupting those interactions. Over time, and without adequate supports, overloaded families can become vulnerable to adverse experiences, ranging from toxic levels of stress to involvement in the child welfare system, and even family separation for reasons of neglect. How might we support and empower overloaded families, so that they may overcome these challenges? How might we see families for their strengths and potential rather than as defined by their darkest moments?

Poverty, like neglect, is a constellation of complex challenges. We are too often investigating families for child maltreatment because other systems are failing. When this happens, a family that may have been experiencing temporary financial insecurity becomes more vulnerable to compounding factors such as homelessness and mounting stress. It’s in these moments that a family becomes vulnerable to a child welfare investigation and potential family separation. So how might we begin to address financial insecurity before it becomes poverty? How might we support families experiencing poverty before it leads to child neglect?

In Wisconsin, family separations disproportionately impact Children of Color. In 2020, Children of Color made up about 31% of Wisconsin’s child population, but 56% of the foster care population in out-of-home care. Nationally, 53% of Black children will experience a Child Protective Services’ investigation before their 18th birthday. In this episode, we explore these disparities and impacts of systemic oppression on children and families, and how these experiences intersect with trauma.

How do we define neglect? How is neglect interpreted and operationalized by our child welfare system, and how many children and families are separated because of it? What are the underlying root causes of neglect that overload caregivers with stress? In this first episode, host Luke Waldo explores these questions and the complexity of neglect with our research and policy, child welfare and child maltreatment prevention, and lived experience experts.

Podcast Contributors

Luke Waldo
Podcast Host and Executive Editor
Director of Program Design and Community Engagement

Luke Waldo is the Host and Executive Editor of the podcast Overloaded: Understanding Neglect, and the Director of Program Design and Community Engagement for the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being.

Luke has dedicated his career to child well-being in Europe, South America and his native Milwaukee where he has worked with children and families adversely impacted by forced migration, homelessness, family violence, and abuse and neglect. He has over two decades of experience working in the complex systems of domestic violence, childhood trauma and well-being, homelessness, education and maltreatment prevention, with a particular focus on engagement and innovative solutions to personal and community challenges. Luke has trained hundreds of child well-being professionals in the areas of domestic violence, toxic stress, adverse childhood experiences, childhood resilience, social innovation and systems change. Prior to joining ICFW’s leadership team, Luke led the Family Support Program, which serves families involved with the child welfare system by providing strengths- and evidence-based interventions.

Luke believes in the power of storytelling, scientific evidence, and their potential to catalyze better outcomes for children and families when brought together effectively.

Luke earned his Master of Science in Cultural Foundations of Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Gabe McGaughey
Podcast Contributor and Interviewer
Co-Director for the Institute for Child and Family Well-being

Gabriel McGaughey serves as the director of well-being for Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee Community Services. In this role, he hopes to push child welfare and other public systems toward a more holistic approach to working with children with the goal of improving their immediate health and long-term well-being.

Previously, Gabriel served as the director of Children’s Child Welfare program, overseeing the implementation of a new program design. With more than 16 years of experience, he has worked at every level of social work from field work at group homes and prevention programs to data analytics and administration. Gabriel joined Milwaukee Child Welfare in 2003 as a case manager, eventually taking on a supervisory role. In 2007, he moved into quality improvement where he created analytic processes to better understand the needs of children and families in foster care.

Gabriel holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Carrie Wade
Technical Production and Original Music for Overloaded: Understanding Neglect
Librarian at Harvard Medical School

Carrie Wade is a research librarian, sound artist, and musician based in Boston, Massachusetts. She records and performs under the name Vadi. When this podcast recording began, Carrie worked as the Health Sciences Librarian at UWM before moving into her current role at the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School.

Podcast Guests

Tim Grove
Wellpoint Care Network
Senior Consultant

Tim Grove, MSSW, is a senior consultant at Wellpoint Care Network (formerly SaintA), a human services agency whose mission it is to facilitate equity, learning, healing and wellness for all. He has over 25 years of professional experience in a variety of direct care, administrative and executive positions. Tim created, developed and lead Wellpoint’s Trauma Informed Care (TIC) initiatives. He created a TIC training curriculum centered around the Seven Essential Ingredients, or 7ei, of understanding and practicing TIC. Tim and the training team at Wellpoint have used the 7ei framework to train more than 60,000 people from diverse disciplines over the past 15 years.
Tim is an Affiliate of the Institute for Child and Family Well-being.

Tim is a Mentor with Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neuroseqential Network and a Master Trainer in Dr. Rob Anda and Laura Porter’s ACE Interface curriculum. Tim and the Wellpoint team’s work has been highlighted and published in a number of magazines, journals and newspapers. He was the lead project manager of a three year research study on the effectiveness of 7ei in child welfare outcomes which demonstrated positive effect on creating placement stability and permanency for kids. Tim is recognized nationally as a trauma informed care expert and was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for a 60 Minutes segment on trauma and resilience.

Ashlee Jackson
Children’s Wisconsin’s Family Support Program – Milwaukee
Family Support Specialist I

Ashlee Jackson is a Family Support Specialist II at Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She has worked for Children’s for 8 years, 6 of those as a Family Support Specialist, and 2 in our Prevention Program as a Home Visitor. She also has volunteer experience supporting families at the La Causa Crisis Nursery. Ashlee graduated with her BSSW from UW-Milwaukee.

Jennifer Jones
Prevent Child Abuse America
Chief Strategy Officer

Jennifer Jones, MSW, serves as the Chief Strategy Officer at Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America) where she develops, implements, and advocates for an integrated strategic framework to help grow PCA America’s leadership role consistent with national prevention priorities, and serves as the lead on regional and national strategic partnerships. Prior to her role with PCA America, Jones was the Director of the Change in Mind Institute and the Co-Director of the Safety and Resilience Impact Area at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. Jones led all aspects of the Institute, including raising $1.7 million for the Texas Change in Mind Learning Collaborative and National Impact Study. Jones also served as the Project Director of the Child Safety Forward Initiative, a three-year Department of Justice cooperative agreement working with 5 jurisdictions to develop community-led, systematic solutions to reduce child fatalities caused by child maltreatment. Jones worked closely with the Alliance policy team, other national organizations and congressional representatives to advance brain science infused policy and trauma-informed care legislation. Preceding her role at the Alliance, Jones served as the Associate Director of the Wisconsin Children’s Trust Fund (CTF). In her last two years at the agency, Jones served as Interim Executive Director, at the Board’s request, and coordinated all activities related to the Governor-appointed Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, including managing all operations, and overseeing the agency’s budget and grantmaking functions. Before her positions with the Children’s Trust Fund, Jennifer served as the communications specialist in the Secretary’s Office at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families and as a child welfare policy advisor in the Wisconsin Division of Children and Family Services. Jones is an affiliate of the Institute for Child and Family Well-Being, a joint project of Children’s Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Jones is also a member of the National HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences) Advisory Board and serves on the Board of Directors of the Hunger Task Force. Jennifer received her master’s in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and bachelor’s in social work from Marquette University.

Hannah Kirk
Children’s Wisconsin’s Healthy Start Program Milwaukee
Healthy Start Supervisor

Hannah Kirk is the Healthy Start Supervisor in Milwaukee, and was previously a Family Case Manager Training Specialist with Children’s Wisconsin, who partners with the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services.

Hannah has dedicated her professional career to Child Welfare within Milwaukee County, where she has worked extensively with children who have adverse childhood experiences. Hannah has a decade of experience in child welfare, where she has served children and families extensively with strengths-based and evidence-based interventions. Hannah has trained several child welfare case managers at Children’s Wisconsin over the last four years, supporting service implementation, and highlighting the importance of community engagement.

Hannah earned her Masters of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2021 and served as an intern with the Institute. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Bryan Samuels
Chapin Hall
Executive Director

Bryan Samuels is the Executive Director of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a nonprofit policy research institute focused on connecting research to action. Under Bryan’s leadership, Chapin Hall is actively working in more than 40 states in building knowledge and creating solutions with and for public system partners, community leaders and members, and families—all with an aim to improve the wellbeing of children and youth and ensure all families thrive.

Across his career, Bryan’s work has centered on identifying and addressing inequities using evidence in policymaking. Key accomplishments include the creation and application of a well-being framework based on the best developmental understanding of normal childhood development; formation of a shared and actionable understanding of the effects of exposure to violence, trauma, poverty, and adverse childhood experiences on the mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical health of children; and emphasis on the importance of building the capacity of public and private child- and family-serving systems and organizations to focus on and produce positive outcomes.

Bryan was appointed by President Obama as the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF), where he served from 2009 to 2013 and leveraged the work of federal departments including Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education, among others, on behalf of children in foster care, youth experiencing housing instability, and families impacted by domestic violence. He received his B.A. in Economics from the University of Notre Dame in 1989 and his M.P.P. from the University of Chicago-Harris School in 1993.

Dr. Kristen Slack
University of Wisconsin School of Social Work

Dr. Kristen Slack’s research focuses on understanding the role of poverty and economic hardship in the etiology of child maltreatment, with a particular emphasis on child neglect. She is also interested in the caseload dynamics of child welfare systems in relation to other public benefit systems, and in community-based programs designed to prevent child maltreatment. Her work advances approaches to better coordinating services and benefits to effectively address the economic needs of families at risk for child maltreatment, and improved assessment strategies for identifying risks and protective factors related to child neglect. Her current research is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Wisconsin Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board. Dr. Slack has been published in dozens of academic journals, authored dozens of reports and manuscripts, and been primary investigator on over 20 federally-funded research projects.

Dr. Slack is also the founder of Prof2Prof, a free platform for professionals and doctoral students in academia to showcase their work, network, and find resources for college teaching, research, higher education administration, and student affairs services.

Theresa Swiechowski
Children’s Wisconsin’s Family Support Program – Merrill
Family Support Supervisor

Theresa Swiechowski is a Family Support Supervisor for Children’s Wisconsin’s Northwoods Family Resource Centers, where she has worked for 7 years in various roles. She is a UW Oshkosh graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. After moving around a bit from Oshkosh to the state of Maine, she and her husband returned to her hometown of Merrill, Wisconsin to raise their 5 children. The balance of work and family is always a challenge for families and theirs was no exception. Theresa’s career, although weaved in and out of raising her kids, has always been working in the human service field but mainly in case management involving mental health, addiction, and parent education. Over the years, she has seen those that were faced with the most difficult obstacles, build resilience and become super heroes of their own stories.

Soua Thao
Children’s Wisconsin’s Family Preservation and Support Program – Wausau
Home Visitor

Soua Thao has been a Home Visitor for Children’s Wisconsin for 16 years. She serves parents of young children from before they have their child up to their child’s fifth birthday. Soua works primarily with Hmong families in Central Wisconsin. Over the past 18 months, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Soua as she has worked with me as a champion for elevating the voice of the families that she serves to better design and improve our programs. I was thrilled when she accepted our invitation to participate in this podcast as she brings so much experience and understanding of the families that she serves, their strengths, the challenges that they face, and the opportunities that our programs and systems have to support and empower them further.

Bregetta Wilson
Wisconsin Department for Children and Families
Lived Experience Coordinator

Bregetta Wilson, MS, LPC-IT, is a positive person, an advocate, community leader, and change agent. She has been working for and with families for the last eighteen years. Bregetta has worked with Pew Charitable Trusts and National Organization Foster Club on Capitol Hill to bring awareness and issues regarding children and families on behalf of Wisconsin. She is a recipient of the Black Excellence Award for her work around Child & Youth Advocacy. Bregetta’s current role within the Department of Children and Families includes working with Lived Experience Partners to elevate the voices of families and children within system and policy change.

Through her organization Embrace Improve Empower, LLC. Bregetta supports organizations with mental health and community engagement efforts. She is a contracted psychotherapist for the Multicultural Trauma and Addiction Treatment Center of Wisconsin, providing mental health services to families in Wisconsin.
She is active in her community around social justice efforts and serves on the boards of the YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin, Rubies and Milwaukee Center for Children and Youth; she is a member of Professional Dimensions, a network of women professionals in Milwaukee and an Alum of Forward48.

A graduate of Alverno and Cardinal Stritch University, she resides in Milwaukee with her fiancé, three children, and pet Husky. Bregetta enjoys going to Orangetheory, dancing, traveling, collecting crystals, practicing holistic aspects of healing, and spending time with family and friends.

Julie Woodbury
Children’s Wisconsin’s Family Preservation and Support Program – Black River Falls
Family Preservation and Support Manager

Dr. Julie Woodbury has been actively involved in the education of families and youth for more than 30 years. Her focus has been on teaching resilience to emerging adults through youth education and development, staff management, and leadership. Julie has been with Children’s Wisconsin for 6 years and is currently a Family Preservation and Support Manager in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Dr. Woodbury supervises the delivery of child abuse prevention services to Children’s Wisconsin clients in the Western Wisconsin area. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Technical Management, a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis on Non-Profit Organizations, and a Doctorate in Education.