Enhancing Trauma Informed Care Practices in Marathon County :: An Assessment of Key Departments & Recommendations for Moving Forward

Written by Aidyn Laurynz, Amanda Ley, & Samantha Pinzl

“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

— Alexander Den Heijer

In Marathon County, our goal is to be “the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous county in Wisconsin.”

There are so many people in our county striving to meet this goal day after day. Over the past year, we had a chance to learn about some of the awesome trauma-informed efforts of our fellow colleagues in Marathon County.

For example, did you know:

  • A coloring book titled Bear Goes to Court” is available to help children understand the court process?
  • The District Attorney’s Office utilized grant funding to create a trauma-informed victim–witness room, and the Sheriff’s Office renovated their interview room to include a calming view on one side of the two-way mirror?
  • There is a trauma-informed meeting space for clients / lactation room for new moms at the Health Department?
  • Or that Social Services now offers a waiting room with a bathroom and a drinking fountain, providing autonomy to customers while protecting safety and confidentiality?
Sheriffs Office_Interview Room
Marathon County Sheriff’s Office interview room with calming scene on one side of the two-way window as a Trauma Informed Care practice. (Photo courtesy of Chief Deputy Chad Billeb.)


But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up a bit…

In the summer of 2019, County leaders asked us to complete an assessment of Trauma Informed Care practices in key County departments. This request was rooted in the Marathon County Strategic Plan 2018–2022:

Objective 3.3 — “Ensure that every child makes it to adulthood with health, stability, and growth opportunities.”

Strategy E — “The County Board will approve a plan that creates a trauma-informed response system for the services we provide.”

We began by researching new, emerging, and best practices in Trauma Informed Care. In other words, we researched what others in similar fields are doing and how it is working. Under direction from leadership, we then developed our assessment process. Ultimately, we decided to examine 9 of the departments that tend to work with people who are impacted by trauma the most and have staff who are regularly impacted by trauma. These included:

  • Administration
  • Clerk of Courts
  • Corporation Counsel
  • District Attorney’s Office
  • Employee Resources
  • Health Department
  • Medical Examiner’s Office
  • Sheriff’s Office
  • Social Services

Next, we interviewed 32 members of management teams and administered a survey to all staff within those departments. Our questions focused on 3 main categories:

  • People: Training, support, communication, and resources to mitigate secondary traumatic stress
  • Physical Spaces: Private and public office spaces with regard to their physical and emotional safety through aesthetic appeal and layout, as well as the availability of break spaces
  • Policies & Procedures: Formal and informal practices specific to or incorporating the principles of Trauma Informed Care

Assessment_Three Categories (2)

In February 2020, after months of research and interviews, we completed our report:

TIC Report Cover

We want to give a special thank-you to IT Technician Ben Krombholz with the Marathon County Public Library. Ben took all of our content and created a user-friendly report. You can view the full report here.

After we presented our assessment at the Health and Human Services meeting, that committee recommended the report to the Marathon County Board of Supervisors, where it was accepted in May 2020.

So, what is Trauma Informed Care and why is it important enough to be part of Marathon County’s Strategic Plan?

trau·ma  noun

  1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

Word Cloud - TRAUMA

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are 3 E’s of trauma:

  • the event
  • the experience
  • the effect

People can go through similar events (such as abuse, an accident or illness, discrimination, or the current pandemic) and experience them in different ways or to different degrees. As a result, the effects of trauma can vary widely.

A trauma-informed approach encourages us to shift our perspective so that we acknowledge the harmful effects of trauma, prevent further or re-traumatization, and promote healing.

This approach includes the incorporation of 6 important principles into our working relationships:

  1. Creating emotional, physical, and psychological safety
  2. Developing trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Fostering opportunities for peer support
  4. Working in collaboration and mutuality
  5. Taking opportunities to enhance empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Being mindful of cultural, historical, and gender issues

SAMHSA 6 Principles of TIC

How is Marathon County doing with regard to Trauma Informed Care practice?

Below we’ve highlighted just a few strengths and gaps in regard to Marathon County’s practice of Trauma Informed Care. For a full listing, please see pages 5–6 of our full report.

Our Strengths

We have a couple of solid things going for us in Marathon County…

First, Marathon County core values align with the principles of Trauma Informed Care. This provides a strong foundation to move forward and continue growing our trauma informed practice. If we are working by those values, we are on the right track.

Second, many staff who participated in the interview or responded to the survey indicated they genuinely want to see and understand trauma and its impacts on the people they serve. They also shared a strong desire for more — more training and tools and more opportunities to practice.

Our Gaps

First, it is difficult to know exactly where we are going (or to make or track our progress) without a roadmap. And we don’t have a roadmap yet that provides us a shared definition of what Trauma Informed Care looks likes in Marathon County.

Second, we all come from different backgrounds and different experiences. We all work in different roles with different expectations. For some of us, Trauma Informed Care practice comes a little easier, and for others, it may present some different challenges.

How do we become a more trauma-informed organization?

“If you want to go far, go together.”

— African Proverb

Growing our Trauma Informed Care practice will be a process. We recommended that the following steps are built into the Marathon County work plan:

Step 1: Adopt a Trauma Informed Care policy.

Step 2: Assemble a Trauma Informed Care Team of diverse stakeholders, including staff and customers, as well as a dedicated lead staff, to coordinate efforts.

Step 3: Develop a comprehensive, tiered strategy that recognizes the individual needs within our varying departments.

Step 4: Provide initial and ongoing Trauma Informed Care training to staff at all levels.

Step 5: Systematically update our policies and procedures.

Step 6: Assess physical spaces and develop plans to implement trauma informed changes.

Step 7: Re-assess and evaluate our progress.

Step 8: Develop next steps based on our re-assessment, as well as emerging and best practices.

On an individual level, there are a number of resources available to help one enhance their understanding of trauma and to empower others to better understand and manage their trauma. You can find resources by visiting websites hosted by the Center for Evidence-Based Practices or the Trauma Informed Care Project.

In closing, it’s important to note that Trauma Informed Care is not just a list of items for staff to check on a spreadsheet and then file away. Trauma Informed Care is an approach to service delivery. It’s an approach we take with those we serve and with each other, at all levels.

And it’s an approach that, when done well and consistently, can improve outcomes — and get us closer to our goal of being “the healthiest, safest, and most prosperous county in Wisconsin.”

Aidyn_LaurynzAidyn Laurynz
Independent Living / Kinship Care Coordinator  |  Marathon County Department of Social Services

Aidyn Laurynz has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (2009) and a Master’s degree in Communication (2012). Aidyn began her role at Marathon County Social Services in 2016. She works closely with teenagers in out-of-home care and with relative caregivers. Aidyn also leads the internal Secondary Traumatic Stress committee. Prior to joining Social Services, Aidyn gained experience working with trauma-impacted populations through her service as an advocate for sexual assault survivors, as well as individuals and groups experiencing marginalization. Aidyn currently serves on the Governance Board for EEA Learning Academy and as Co-Chair of the Connected Sub-Committee for the Marathon County LIFE Report. She was born in Wisconsin and traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and Canada before moving to the Wausau area in 2013.  Email Aidyn Laurynz.

Amanda_LeyAmanda Ley
Assistant Corporation Counsel  |  Marathon County Office of Corporation Counsel

Attorney Amanda Ley has practiced in Marathon County since 2011. She is currently an Assistant Corporation Counsel focusing on the prosecution of Children in Need of Protection or Services cases, child support enforcement, and involuntary mental health commitments. Before joining Marathon County in 2019, she was an Assistant State Public Defender for 8 years. She received a Juris Doctor degree from American University Washington College of Law and her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Amanda is finishing a 4-year term on the Wisconsin State Bar Board of Governors and is currently Vice President of the Board of Directors for Wausau Events, an organization focused on building community through events.  Email Amanda Ley.

Samantha_PinzlSamantha Pinzl
Public Health Educator |  Marathon County Health Department

Samantha has a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse and is a Certified Health Education Specialist. She has worked at the Marathon County Health Department since 2015 and is on the Community Health Improvement Team for the department. She has facilitated community coalitions and done prevention work around healthy eating and active living, tobacco prevention, and adverse childhood experiences. She went into public health because she wanted to help prevent disease and protect health at a population level. The Community Health Improvement Team has been the communications team during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing accurate and timely information to the public. She and her husband have a 2-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son.  Email Samantha Pinzl.

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