HOT in the USA – Milwaukee

HOT in the USA – Milwaukee continues. So, I’ve been in Milwaukee now for the week. Its nickname is brew town because they’ve always brewed beer here, even before it was actually a place. I’ve been exploring – to find my way around and learn more about the place. It’s beside Lake Michigan which is so big it looks like the sea!

Here’s a picture – it’s really beautiful!

I’ve also been doing some reading to learn more about the agency I’m going to visit and about the services they have for children and young people in Milwaukee. I learned that they do have services for young people who are homeless, and some of them look really good so that made me feel better for Jessie (who I talked about in my last blog post).

Finding my way around and asking for help

I’ve been doing lots of walking and exploring. I’m already starting to know my way around – I’m surprised that it hasn’t taken too long. It’s exciting being somewhere new.  It’s a bit like learning from the beginning how people do things.

People have been mostly really helpful though, so, for example, the girl in the supermarket showed me how to use the bank machine and another woman told me about how to get a bus pass. Some people are not very helpful and sometimes people try to help but don’t really give the right information.

I’m trying to trust my instincts when trying to decide whether to listen to someone or not. So far my instinct has been quite good.

A lot of things are just the same as in Edinburgh but here are some things I’ve noticed that are different:

  • People talk to me in the street a lot more than at home, giving lots of compliments. One woman shouted over the road that she liked my shoes. Another said she liked my hair. Some people just say ‘hi’ or ‘howdy’. My favourite was a guy on the bus who came over to tell me I was a “mighty fine looking woman” 
  • They use LOADS of plastic! All the dishes in my hotel are plastic and they are wrapped in plastic and there is nowhere to recycle all the plastic (my colleagues at work and my family know what I’m like about recycling ). A lot of the cafes also just have plastic throw away cutlery and dishes! Someone told me that they do recycle their rubbish at home. Oh, and they call rubbish ‘garbage‘.
  • People here are divided by race. Race is a much bigger issue than it is at home. People from different races are often separated into different areas, which I find really strange. But, people are more aware of things like ‘white privilege’ – which is an understanding that white people do not have to face so much discrimination.
  • There is also more understanding about cultural trauma – which is what people might have when previous generations have experienced oppression or cruelty (things like racism, sexism, poverty, mass killing or slavery). It is interesting that there is new research which shows that this kind of trauma can be carried in our genes! Amazing!
  • In Milwaukee, a lot of people think it is dangerous to use the bus. I got a bus pass and used the bus every day because I wanted to see how people in the community get around. It didn’t seem dangerous to me and people were really friendly to me on the bus.
  • People here eat bigger plates of food and drive bigger cars.
  • The water doesn’t taste as nice as Scottish water (I think it has more chlorine in it).

So, the Agency I’ve been working in is called SAINT A (alert – competition clue).  Here is a picture:

At Saint A they provide a range of foster care, education and mental health services: coordinating care, child welfare, family services, foster care and adoption, supporting young people in their change to adulthood, community treatment, school-based services and residential services. I met loads of really lovely Saint A staff.

Here are some of them:

A really amazing woman called Adrianne took care of me during my visit.  She had a big warm smile and knows A LOT about working with trauma.  She is really kind and had arranged for me to meet everyone and to take part in some of the work that they do at Saint A.

Lots of the staff met with me and told me about their roles and about what the issues are in their work (what works well, what they find difficult and solutions to the difficulties).  They reminded me a bit of how HOT works because they have very clear values.

They want everyone in their whole agency to work by these values and this is really important in the work they do. The other thing that they expect all of their staff to learn about is ‘trauma informed care’. This helps their whole team to understand how trauma affects the children, young people and families that they work with.

They define trauma as “an event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances that are experienced by a person as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting difficult effects on the person’s behaviour and on their physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being” (SAMHSA, 2014).

EventSingle, recurring or set of circumstances
ExperienceTerrifying, threatening, overwhelming
EffectReshapes your world view

Everyone experiences trauma in different ways. Sometimes people can move on from it and sometimes they get stuck in it – it’s different for us all. Some people are more at risk of trauma. Experiencing trauma can lead to physical health issues, mental health issues, behavioural problems, poor relationships and substance use.  By understanding trauma Saint A staff can support children, young people and families rather than making the problems worse.

Things that can help people get over trauma are:

  • Good family ties,
  • Strong relationship with a partner,
  • Good community connections,
  • Taking part in meaningful activity,
  • Strong culture or spiritual beliefs,
  • Good education.

Secondary Trauma

Saint A also recognise the idea of secondary trauma – this is when workers or other people are affected by hearing about or working with trauma. They advise workers to look out for the following symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing of personal trauma,
  • Increase in feeling agitated or wanting to avoid things,
  • Changes in memory and how you think about things or see things,
  • Don’t feel like they have much control or power in their lives,
  • Negative way of thinking about things, not feeling safe or trusting people and not feeling that they have independence,
  • Physical health difficulties get worse,
  • Hopelessness, fear, anger, guilt.

If you have any of these signs then they recommend that you should seek help and support.

In HOT we also recognise secondary trauma and we have support in place to help prevent it.

The staff at Saint A gave me a really fantastic experience. I loved watching how they worked and I’m going to write a big report when I come back to share my learning.  My favourite bits were meeting families and children.  I got to go visit families who welcomed me into their homes and talked to me about the issues they are facing.  A lot of the issues are the same as people face in Scotland.

I met some really cool young guys who stayed in the residential unit at Saint A. They welcomed me into their class and their accommodation, showing me around where they live. I felt very honoured. 

They let me join in with a sensory, relaxation session where we talked and played with lavender-scented oil and water, foam and fidget toys. 

By the way, fidget spinners are really popular over here too. Some of the young people had never heard of Scotland so they checked it out on a map and asked lots of questions about what it was like. 

They drew me some pictures to take back to Scotland, so I will always remember them.

When I wasn’t at work I did some fun things – like going to jazz in the park and doing the river walk (walking beside the river that runs through Milwaukee) and going to a baseball game. 

Here’s a picture of me in a giant baseball glove:

So now it’s time to move on for the next part of my trip.

Des Moines Conference

I’m going to a conference in a city called Des Moines, in a state called Iowa – you can look it up in on Google maps if you are not sure where it is. A conference is where lots of workers and researchers come together to learn.

The conference is all about trauma-informed care and I’m very excited to learn more.  It’s funny that when you are really interested in something, it is really easy it is to learn about it. I want to learn as much as I can so that I can support young people and the HOT Team in the best way possible.

Niki P