First Lady Tonette Walker

First lady launches statewide tour on trauma care

By: Tiffany Yapp and Lysée Mitri, WKOW Madison, April 19, 2012
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wisconsin's first lady helped launch a statewide tour Thursday, focused on a new way to get state help to children and families who've had a traumatic experience in their lives.

Tonette Walker participated in the first of six listening sessions she hopes will help the state learn how to better recognize, understand and address problems created by traumatic stress.

Media was not allowed into the listening session, but WKOW talked to those involved afterwards, including a woman who suffered from abuse as a child and couldn't get the services she needed here in Wisconsin who is now working to make sure others can find what they need.

"It healed my world," said Paula Verrett.

She is talking about "trauma-informed care."

The idea is to support and respect survivors instead of re-traumatizing and stigmatizing them with labels and diagnoses.

"Trauma-informed care… It's hard. It's asking people to shift from saying, ‘What's wrong with you? What's your diagnosis? Why do you behave the way you do?' to focusing on what might have happened in your past and how does that impact who you are today?" said Elizabeth Hudson, a trauma-informed care consultant with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

"I grew up in a traumatic environment. My father was addicted to alcohol. There was a lot of abuse that happened around that," Verrett said.

She said she was two years old when the physical abuse started.

"I left the state of Wisconsin to find a treatment program that would help me because I couldn't find the program I needed here," she said.

Now she's working to make sure others don't have to do the same.

First lady Tonette Walker is also on board.

She started in Madison with the first session of her statewide tour on the issue.

"Trauma-informed care really spans every department. It's just not foster care, not the welfare system... even corrections could use help with how they treat children that have experienced trauma," she said.

Verrett said her outlook on life shifted when she got the help she needed.

"There are people out there who care. There is safety and people can heal and if something bad happens to me, I can handle it. And that I'm a good person and that I deserve to be treated better," Verrett said.

The first lady has five other listening sessions planned to meet with health and human services providers. That includes stops in La Crosse, Milwaukee and Waukesha.

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