U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher talks to crowd at the Marq in Suamico on Tuesday, July 31, during a panel discussion on trauma-informed care. Ben Rodgers Photo
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Elected officials and regional players for trauma informed care (TIC) were in Suamico on Tuesday, July 31, for Youth Voices: A Trauma-Informed Perspective to share insights.
TIC is a framework that is responsive to the impact of trauma which emphasizes emotional, psychological and physical safety for service providers and survivors to create opportunities for survivors to gain back control and empowerment.
But before experts and officials shared their insights, the crowd at the Marq heard from Taz Smith, a recent Bay Port High School graduate who has gone through the foster system and come out as a success.
When Smith was 14, she said she was kicked out of her home by her mother, an alcoholic. Smith raised her youngest sister from birth and would not leave without her. She was then placed in foster care where her fight to keep them together continued.
While in foster care, Smith has learned to play more than seven instruments, played high school basketball, joined the mock trial team, participated in a culinary arts program in Illinois and was selected to attend the presidential inauguration due to academic excellence.
“Now some may say that I am a success story of the system, however, I am one of the very few who fought for my normalcy,” Smith said. “When I was placed into foster care the things that I could normally do like swimming, hunting, sports and something as little as a sleepover were stripped from me. I had been forced into a world where everything had to be signed off by my biological parents. The parents who are the reason I was placed into foster care. Those parents were given all the power over my life. A life they had no moral regard for.”
The group also heard from Emily Hyde, a product of the foster care system, who now at 23 is back in college.
“Maybe if I would have had a little more guidance and somebody there after I was out of foster care I would have had a little more help going to college and getting my life on track,” Hyde said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher informed the group of the passage of the Perkins Loan Reauthorization Act, which contains a provision, at his behest, for a program for children in foster care to receive reduced tuition to technical schools.
Gallagher also touted the formation of a TIC caucus in Congress, and the building of an advisory council for the caucus.
“That may not seem like much for those of you who are in the trenches, but really it has to start with explaining to my colleagues what trauma-informed care is and why it is so important,” Gallagher said.
The twice-deployed Marine said it didn’t click for him until he saw what trauma does to the brain medically.
“It took me digging into the research and going to the hospital to see the ways trauma remaps parts of the brain to be fully convinced,” Gallagher said.
In Wisconsin, State Rep. Joel Kitchens said the state was close to approving a bill last session that would have given children in foster care free tuition to state colleges.
“Taz and Emily, you guys gave great testimony on how difficult it is and we would love to change that,” Kitchens said. “I would love to have both of you come to the Capitol to testy before that.”
State Rep. Paul Tittl said the state needs to do a better job investing in youth now, instead of when it’s too late.
“One of the things I think that as we’re talking about our youth, we can invest in them now, invest in them when they’re younger, or we can end up building cells for them,” Tittl said.
He said struggles have no socioeconomic barriers.
“You can be in a good home, you’re still going to have struggles,” Tittl said. “You may have what you consider the perfect home, but you could have struggles in there. It’s not all in the ghettos, in the projects or poverty or whatever, it affects all of our lives.”
Wisconsin First Lady, Tonette Walker spoke on how she is involved with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the training to get people certified to understand the program.
ACEs is foundational research based on childhood experiences and its impact on violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health.
“For us we will train anybody and everyone who will listen to us,” Walker said. “Since we’ve been around, since 2011, we’ve trained over 10,000 people on trauma-informed care. Our goal really is to change a system.”
Earlier at the event regional experts in TIC spoke on the family-find process, Kids At Hope, collaborative relationship building, workforce development and engaging local governments.