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The Third Branch

Team attends Institute on Child Well-being

By Michelle Jensen Goodwin, Policy Analyst, Children's Court Improvement Program

Wisconsin was selected as one of seven states through a competitive application process to take part in the National Governors Association's (NGA) Three Branch Institute on Child Well-being, a year-long process that aims to engage all branches of government, as well as the broader community and tribes, to improve the social and emotional well-being of children in foster care. 

Participating states were asked to assemble a team comprised of representatives from the executive, legislative and judicial branches and attend a cross-site meeting in Philadelphia July 24-26. 

Wisconsin team members included Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson, Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Kevin Moore, SET Ministry, Inc. CEO Laurie Laehn, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Mary Triggiano, Wisconsin Children's Court Improvement Program Director Michelle Jensen Goodwin, Sen. Alberta Darling, Rep. Joan Ballweg, and Sen. Nikiya Harris.

Participants learned about a variety of strategies to assess and enhance well-being for children and youth in foster care. Bryan Samuels, former commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families (ACYF), discussed the agency's well-being framework for child welfare-involved children and families. His presentation focused on national data and outcomes in four primary domains: cognitive function, physical health and development, behavioral/emotional functioning and social functioning.

The meeting also featured presentations from experts, researchers and state officials on related topics, including moving towards a trauma-informed child welfare system, the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, improving educational outcomes for foster youth, and effective monitoring of psychotropic medications. 

Triggiano found the Institute to be a productive experience that established a strong foundation for cross-system collaboration.

"The Institute presented a unique opportunity for the three branches to come together, share information and learn more about child well-being. Looking back, it was an intensive process which allowed us to build stronger relationships with each other. We can now better work towards a common vision and mission for the well-being of children in our systems of care."

State teams developed a comprehensive, statewide plan of action with long- and short-term strategies to address well-being; identified additional stakeholders to invite to participate on the team once they returned home; and discussed potential barriers and challenges to progress.

Wisconsin is using the structure of the Three Branch Institute to support the implementation of Fostering Futures, Walker's trauma-informed care initiative. Fostering Futures aims to develop a statewide, interdisciplinary approach, informed by three local communities and a Wisconsin policymakers group, to integrate evidence about adverse childhood experiences and trauma-informed principles into state and local systems. Triggiano, La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Ramona Gonzalez, and Jensen Goodwin currently serve on the Fostering Futures Policy Advisory Committee.

Other states include Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Virginia, and West Virginia. The project is sponsored by the NGA Center for Best Practices, in collaboration with Casey Family Programs, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Center for State Courts and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study or the Fostering Futures initiative, visit:

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