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December 17, 2019


ThedaCare and Other Wisconsin Organizations Come Together to Support Youth

Image Caption: In October, Saint A held their annual statewide ACEs Interface course in Shawano. The goal was to train future trainees, ensuring a local team of experts to share ACEs/TIC training throughout the area.

December 17, 2019


ThedaCare and Other Wisconsin Organizations Come Together to Support Youth

SHAWANO, Wis. – Childhood experiences physically affect how our brains develop, which in turn affects how we react to situations throughout our lives. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, limited life potential and early death because of the changes they create in a child’s brain.

“There are 10 experiences, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), that, if they happen in your childhood, can significantly impact a person’s long-term physical and mental health,” said Paula Morgen, ThedaCare’s Director of Community Health Improvement. “We need to address those experiences to improve the overall health of our communities.”  

A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente identified the following as ACEs:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • A family member who is depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness
  • A family member who is addicted to alcohol or another substance
  • A family member who is in prison
  • Witnessing an adult family member being abused
  • Losing a parent through separation, divorce or death

According to the CDC, more than 60 percent of adults report having experienced one or more ACEs in their youth.

“The study further showed that children who experience four or more ACEs from birth to age 17 are six times more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or drugs. They’re also at an increased risk to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes or obesity than those who experienced only one or two ACEs,” said Morgen. “Continued exposure to ACEs creates toxic stress, which is the repeated activation of the brain’s fight or flight stress response. That affects brain development and impacts a child’s ability to regulate their reactions to stressful situations and those effects continue on into adulthood.”  

Toxic stress is trauma, and it affects attention span, impulsive behavior, decision-making, learning, emotions and response to stress. It is the root cause of many chronic diseases, addictions, many mental illnesses and most violent activities.

Following a 2017 ThedaCare-sponsored Community Health Action Team (CHAT) “plunge”, a community task force in Shawano agreed that addressing the effects of ACEs in children and adults could potentially address many community issues.

Those issues included alcoholism, methamphetamine and opioid drug abuse, family dynamics problems, parenting skill issues and young children’s low levels of preparedness for school.

“Our task force decided that if we could educate the community about ACEs, how to prevent them, and how to work with people who have had them, then we might make Shawano County a healthier community,” said Megan Suehring, positive youth development educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension in Shawano County, who is helping to lead the initiative. “When you dig a little deeper into all the community health and social issues we identified, you find there are direct correlations between those issues and higher ACE scores.”

Trauma-informed care (TIC) is one approach to interacting with people who have experienced ACEs. TIC applies what neuroscience has learned about how the brain develops, functions and recovers from trauma to help people overcome ACEs, reports Saint A, a leading national TIC training organization based in Milwaukee.

“Trauma-informed care/ACEs training gives people who interact with children and adults who have had ACEs a greater understanding of why they act the way they do,” said Morgen. “It gives them skills to intervene when behaviors might not be what was hoped for or expected.”

“Trauma-informed care means that when a teenager or adult is lashing out or acting inappropriately, we should be wondering, ‘What happened to you?’ instead of ‘What’s wrong with you?’” Suehring said. “It shifts from a disciplinary, combative approach to one of understanding and compassion.”

The Shawano County task force agreed to embrace ACEs and TIC training, and Suehring contacted Saint A. At Suehring’s suggestion, Saint A held their annual statewide ACEs Interface course in Shawano in late October. The goal was to train future trainees, ensuring a local team of experts to share ACEs/TIC training throughout the area. During this year’s training, more than half of the attendees were from the Shawano area. Suehring explained that Shawano’s ACEs/TIC training will focus on front-end staff, such as medical clinic registration staff, emergency departments, courthouse staff, 4-H and Boys and Girls Club leaders, Parks and Recreation and library staffs.

“Our goal is to educate trainers who will show others in the community how to use trauma-informed care to address challenging situations,” Suehring said. “These are the people who may be dealing with children and adults whose behaviors are out of the ordinary, perhaps even irrational. ACEs education helps you develop empathy through education.”

“The excitement that has developed around bringing ACEs training to Shawano is a big deal in this community, and it’s a big deal that Saint A agreed to hold training here,” said Morgen. “We’re pleased the ACEs training program grew out of the CHAT plunge. Our purpose in facilitating these plunges is to help communities come together to figure out what they want to do about issues in their communities that affect the health and wellbeing of their citizens. That’s the ThedaCare approach to improving community health.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to a community of more than 600,000 residents in 14 counties and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals. ThedaCare has 180 locations including seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.

Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.