Kerry Palejs in front of the Milwaukee River in January

I think I am probably the only person who has managed multiple offices where one was in Penrith, NSW and the other in Milwaukee (Wisconsin US). I raked up hundreds of frequent flyer points commuting between the two offices, managing two similar, but very different staff teams. It was a wonderful experience, although going from 40+ degrees in January to a Polar Vortex with a metre of snow covering the city was  a bit of a challenge. Working in another country, with a very different culture, is nothing like the experience you have as a tourist. I got to know lots of really fabulous people, enjoyed the local food (mostly deep fried!), found the best eateries (Mo’s Steakhouse was my favourite) and the prime shopping spots (The Shops of Grand Avenue, Mayfair Mall and the Milwaukee Public Market). However, my most outstanding experience was the approach the city was implementing in tackling the complex issues faced by its most vulnerable citizens.

Milwaukee is a mid-western city that is struggling in part, to overcome the loss of its huge brewing and manufacturing base and is the US’s second poorest city (behind Detroit). Empty factories and warehouse are slowly being converted to new industries and modern housing, but there are significant social issues. 40% of the population are African American and 18% are Hispanic, and the city sadly has a huge disparity in employment, income and housing levels. Despite this, the city has an energy and intention to move forward, and to address the issues that have been festering for many years. Milwaukee is aiming to be the first “Trauma Informed State”- leading the way in ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) initiatives.

With strong support from the Governor of Wisconsin, 43 counties and three tribes have been implementing ACEs awareness, training and support to a wide cross-section of organisations and agencies including schools, health, human services, mental health services, universities, law enforcement, public officers and of, members of the community. Wisconsin is on track to emulate the results recorded by other ACE Informed Projects:

  • 98% drop in youth suicide attempts
  • 56% drop in teen mother births
  • 90% drop in school suspensions
  • 30% drop in emergency department visits

The facts speak for themselves. During my many visits I saw firsthand the amazing outreach services held each Saturday in the central park of Milwaukee, where workers in tents and mobile vans provided a range of holistic and comprehensive services to homeless people from a safe and non-confronting venue. The programs’ overall goal is to:

  • Form a trauma-informed coalition to advance a movement in Wisconsin;
  • Increase awareness of health literacy about ACEs, the effects of toxic stress, trauma-informed care, and resiliency;
  • Offer methods of best practice for communities to use;
  • Stimulate the creation of policies that advance trauma-informed care in Wisconsin. *


Governor Walker (Wisconsin) was also the impetus behind the introduction of a bipartisan resolution “Recognizing the importance and effectiveness of trauma-informed care” earlier this year introduced into the US House of Representatives.

Way to go Wisconsin! I look forward to seeing the changes this huge shift in thinking and service provision will bring to the most vulnerable members of your community.

Australia, what are we waiting for?