November 7-8th, 2022
Kalahari Resort in the Wisconsin Dells
and Online

The Children Come First Conference is a two-day event (in-person and online) focused on addressing and improving the outlook of children’s mental health, offering over 50 workshops sharing state-of-the-art guidance and practices. Nationally known speaker Alfie Kohn and renowned neuroscience expert Dr. Lori Desautels are this year’s keynote speakers.

As one of the largest, longest-running, family-driven, children’s mental health events in the state, the Children Come First Conference is designed to inform and engage parents, caregivers, teachers, school support staff, mental health professionals, and social workers, as well as county, community, and other professional service providers.

This Year’s Theme: The Wonder of Welcoming

Kids and families living with mental and behavioral health issues are too often left feeling misunderstood and unwelcome. Despite best intentions, some of the very systems and programs set up to help children and families reinforce those feelings, work against progress, and contribute to the stigma children and families struggle to overcome. We can do better! Join us at the 2022 Children Come First Conference.

Alfie Kohn

2022 Keynote Speaker

Alfie Kohn is the author of 14 books on education, parenting, and human behavior, including PUNISHED BY REWARDS (1993), BEYOND DISCIPLINE (1996), THE SCHOOLS OUR CHILDREN DESERVE (1999),UNCONDITIONAL PARENTING (2005), THE HOMEWORK MYTH (2006), and THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD (2014).

He has written for most of the leading education periodicals and has appeared twice on “Oprah.”  Time magazine described him as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” Kohn works with educators and parents across the country and speaks regularly at national conferences. He lives in the Boston area and you can view his website here:

Dr. Lori Desautels, PhD

2022 Keynote Speaker

Dr. Lori Desautels, has been an Assistant Professor at Butler University since 2016 where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate programs in the College of Education. She was also an Assistant Professor at Marian University in Indianapolis for 8 years where she founded the Educational Neuroscience Symposium. Currently, the Symposium is in its 10th year, and now sponsored by Butler University College of Education. Through these conferences and symposiums, educators, parents and the community learn deeply about how adversity, trauma and resiliency impact the developing nervous system, helping our students to feel a sense of autonomy and purpose along with social, emotional and cognitive well-being. Because of her work, Dr. Desautels has been able to attract the foremost experts in the fields of developmental, relational and the social neurosciences which significantly grow the conference each year.


Dr. Lori’s Full Bio:  PDF Download

The Figureheads

This year’s conference will also feature a special musical guest appearance by The Figureheads, a Madison-based hip-hop group whose music is focused on inspiring and motivating children. The Figureheads have worked with kids in therapy environments, after-school programs, and public schools. They are both a musical group and a non-profit organization determined to create community development through positive hip-hop songs and mentorship. 



2022 Workshops

Ellie Allen

Neuroscience, Psychology, and Mindfulness Practice

Participants are prompted to draw connections between neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness. An understanding of how the brain works provides a foundation for the underlying causes of behavior and emotions. With this understanding, participants can develop practices to increase one’s own self-awareness as well as be helpful to others.

Michael Axelrod & 
Angela Fontanini-Axelrod

Merging Interprofessional Practice with Cultural Competency: Frameworks for Supporting Diverse Families

The integration of interprofessional collaboration and culturally competent practices has the potential to enhance outcomes, expand service delivery options, and address systematic racism in applied settings. This presentation discusses frameworks of interprofessional collaboration that emphasize culturally competent practices as a mechanism to engage diverse families in education and healthcare.

Jessie Benash 

How to Help Everyone Feel Welcome

Making adjustments to your group or classroom to include everyone is a tough job. Learn how to talk to people that are different than you or to support a young person through it. What to do if someone starts to escalate. Also tips for making everyone feel welcome. Leaving time for questions and answers for talking to someone that has a disability.

Heather Bennett 

We Rock the Spectrum Racine County

Heather Bennett shares her journey of how her career in education, and being a parent to a son with autism, led her to opening an inclusive indoor sensory gym in her community. Hear more about the third gym to open here in Wisconsin.

Heather Boorman & Antwan Morris 

Stopping the School to Prison Pipeline

Our most vulnerable children (children living in poverty, neurodiverse children, racial minorities, traumatized children) are regularly being penalized, marginalized, and criminalized by the systems and adults which are supposed to be serving them. Antwan Morris lived this reality. Learn from his experiences and together with therapist and neurodiversity advocate, Heather Boorman, reconceptualize children’s behaviors, discover alternate strategies to support them effectively, and gain advocacy skills to do your part to stop the school to prison pipeline.

Jeremy Bryan 

B-Fly Breakthrough

The journey of the caterpillar to the chrysalis to the butterfly is a master metaphor for youth developing their sense of identity and skill. Jeremy Bryan will present the groundbreaking work he is doing at the Cleveland Clinic in partnership with the Refresh Collective to serve kids who have experienced trauma by unlocking their creativity through songwriting.

Chelsea Budde & Denise Schamens 

Fostering Meaningful Inclusion of Learners on the Autism Spectrum through Awareness, Acceptance, and Empathy Training of Neuromajority Peers

Children with disabilities, including autism, are far more likely than their typically-developing peers to be subjected to bullying. By creating a culture of acceptance, schools can prevent disability harassment, which is a violation of three federal laws. Teaching neuromajority classmates about autism can lead to healthy social-emotional environments.

Antoinette Chambers 

Welcoming Youth and Families

It’s not uncommon for youth placed in out-of-home care to struggle, along with their family. How can foster families and others (school staff, social workers, providers) welcome these youth AND their family? What are common barriers and how can we be pro-active in welcoming all?

Antoinette Chambers

Are We as Welcoming as We Think We are?

Most of us want to be welcoming to all, and strive to do so. Could we do better? Families of children with mental health needs, despite best intentions and efforts of those around them, often feel marginalized and not always welcomed. Experiences and perspectives will be shared, along with ideas on how to self-reflect and do better.

Tracey Chugg & Cassandra Rugg 

Motivating Change through the Power of Connection

We have learned that the human brain is wired to make connections. This workshop will demonstrate how the power of a positive and consistent relationship can help motivate change in parents and children. Explore the approach being used in Green County to work with children and families who have had numerous and reoccurring referrals to systems, and have struggled to make improvements through participation in traditional services. Learning the difference between transactional and transformational relationships can shift your perspective and your case practice helping families find more success in working with professionals.

Tracey Chugg 

Supporting Families Through Reunification

Transitions can be stressful for children and adults alike. Often when these transitions are positive ones such as increased visitation and the reunification of children who have been previously placed outside the home, we often overlook that families can experience increased stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. It is normal for parents to want to present an image that they have everything under control and many parents are fearful of asking for help because they are scared to fail. This workshop will share strategies for supporting families through reunification in an effort to not only support a successful transition but also to build trust and the feeling of support provided by the systems working with the family.

Madison Dillinger & Gina Bean 

Diversity is a Fact, Inclusion is an Act

Down the street or across the country, we will meet individuals who face different challenges than ours. Inclusion is how we embrace differences and promote the success of all the individuals in our community to come together to support each other, work, play and learn.

Sara Dionne 

A Group You Can Stand Out In (to Fit In)

By getting together regularly, our goal is to help kids with autism or similar diagnoses to work on social skills, while also providing support to each other.

Ben Fisher 

Police in Schools: What does Research Tell Us?

This presentation will review current research evidence about school-based police, including their impact on school safety, student discipline, and issues of racial equity.

Phyllis Greenberger & Amy Polsin

Navigating Special Education for Students with Behavior Challenges

In this session, we will be discussing how to use positive behavioral intervention strategies to avoid exclusionary discipline methods (such as suspension and expulsion), as well as learning more about using Functional Behavioral Assessments to develop Behavior Intervention Plans. We will also discuss manifestation determination reviews – what they are and when they are required. Finally, we’ll answer the questions, “What is Extended School Year (ESY)?” and “What makes a student eligible for ESY?” Join us to learn tips to make navigating special education for students with behavior challenges as painless as possible.

Daniela Guerrero 

EMDR and Attachment-Focused Trauma Therapy with LatinX Children and Families

Working with LatinX families can be a rewarding and unique experience. In Wisconsin, the number of Spanish-speaking clinicians who are EMDR-trained and attachment-focused, is scarce. This presentation aims to help clinicians learn about unique challenges LatinX families face and how to develop a therapeutic relationship with them.

Kim Jones & Heidi TeWinkel 


The S.M.I.L.E. Approach is based on research on the brain, body, and mind. It recognizes the role that self-awareness and grief recovery play in the development of compassion, kindness, empathy, resilience, gratitude, joy and meaningful relationships. Join us in self-discovery and grief recovery as we share S.M.I.L.E’s action steps: Speak your Story, Implement Mindfulness, Ignite Your Heart, Let go of loss and grief, and Embrace Your WHOLE self. We look forward to alongside you.

Jordan Knegendorf  & Toni Chambers 

When Success is Measured by the Number of Police Calls

This presentation will take you through Jordan’s experiences from grade school to high school; what was it like? He will share what felt welcoming and what made things more challenging than they needed to be. What did it take to get down to only one police call?

Linda Kroll 

Adam’s Story-A Mom Presents Her Son’s Life, Addiction and Death, and Her Journey through Grief

I lost my 24-year-old son to suicide after a 10-year battle with alcohol and marijuana. I took him to the doctor a few months before he died, and the doctor put him on meds for anxiety and depression. This doctor was an internist and admitted to me after Adam died that doctors do not get much training in mental health issues when they are in med school. The meds and the chemicals just made things worse, and then the worst happened. For 20 years I have been traveling all over telling “Adam’s Story”, as many as 77 times in one year, ten times in one week, and multiple times in one day. People have come up to me and told me I saved their life with the story. I present his life, his addiction, his death, and my journey through grief.

Connie Lillas 

Matching and Mismatching the Expectation Gap in Early Childhood

Mismatches between young children with adult caretakers, educators, and treatment modalities often lead to false expectations. These, in turn, lead to an over-reliance of rewards, disciplinary measures, and punishments for altering challenging behaviors that are problematic whether from adverse experiences and/or from a neurodivergent status. Dr. Lillas will present the NeuroRelational Framework that distinguishes bottom-up from top-down engagement and learning processes, supporting better matching for parents and practitioners alike.

Allison Lourash 

The Importance of Connection

Being welcomed in your neighborhood leads to strong connections that impact social and emotional health. Connecting with neighbors can be hard when your family is seen as different. Learn how bonds in the community benefit your child throughout their life. Hear stories about family-led projects that have created social networks.

Tim Markle 

Digging Deeper into How to Forgive

A number of people have attended an overview of why forgiveness matters in having positive mental health. This presentation digs deeper into the steps of forgiveness including uncovering our pain and re-humanizing our offender. We will utilize worksheets and guided imagery to help in the process.

Tim Markle & Hunter Markle 

Why Won’t My Brain Shut-up?

Identifying, acknowledging, dealing with our self-talk can be a great step toward better mental health. Using our lives and what I have learned, we will explore how to notice what we are saying to ourselves about ourselves and how we can change.

Tim Markle 

Check Your Shame(ing) at the Door

We all have felt shame. That sense that not only did you make mistake, but you feel you are a mistake. And we all have shamed others. I have learned a few things about being shamed and shaming others and the good news is we aren’t stuck. Let’s learn together how to check our shame(ing) at the door.

Doug Maynard & Joan Maynard 

How to Get Into the World of a Child: Dealing with Autism and Autistic Intelligence One Child at a Time

This presentation is based, in part, on my recently published co-authored book, Autistic Intelligence: Interaction, Individuality, and the Challenges of Diagnosis (University of Chicago Press, 2022). In this interactive presentation, I draw on autism “narrative” (biographies, autobiographies, and my own video recordings). Children’s “worlds” often seem impenetrable. However, no matter how distant or strange or convoluted such worlds may seem, we can appreciate these worlds, understand them, and use them as routes to enhance the child’s experience and inclusiveness.

Amber McKelvey  & Hilary Sahr 

Reducing “Hot Spots” in Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Physical and psychological safety are not always the same. Children who have experienced trauma are likely to feel unsafe long after they are out of actual physical danger. Join us in an interactive session learning how to define, identify, and reduce “hot spots” in children who have experienced trauma.

Ashley Miu, Dean Heus & Mckenzie Olson 

Supporting Wellness for K-12 Online Learners

Attendees will gain practical strategies used in a K-12 statewide online school that have led to student success. We will review Wauwatosa Virtual Academy’s structures and supports. We will describe our collaboration and strategies that have demonstrated student success, such as targeted Zoom meetings and individualized meet and greets. Attendees will receive resources to use with students to support the wellness of K-12 online learners. We will do a deep dive into resources used to support social, emotional, and executive functioning for students in our virtual school.

Howard Mulloy 

Planning Ahead – Our Decisions Matter

Planning promotes confidence. Confidence commands respect. Respect attracts welcoming. If we know our needs, wishes and values, we can plan for our future. We’ll discuss decision-making options and other current and future planning tools as we consider life changes and needs.

Matthew Nonemacher 

Positive Pairing with the Spectrum

An ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) initial step that parents, caregivers, and professionals can use to maximize impact with kids and adults on the autism spectrum, or any individual needing support. How to generate a need to communicate? How to gain shared attention? What does he/she/they like? How do I help them?! This presentation gets into the science of learning and adds to your knowledge on how to begin to interact and foster learning opportunities for any individual you are seeking to support, teach, and enjoy.

Adam Nowak, Joshua Schroeder & Kristie Johns 

Navigating Barriers to mental health services

In this session, we will explain work-arounds for a variety of barriers that impact a family’s ability to access mental health care (i.e., paperwork, transportation, facilitating contact, home visits, school-based service models, etc.). We will also talk about streamlining the referral process and working together with families for completing the process.

PATCH Teen Educators 

Providers and Teens Communicating for Health: PATCH for Providers

PATCH Teen Educators share their authentic insights into the concerns, preferences, and realities of today’s youth in healthcare settings. Participants are asked to reflect on their own policies and practice and are challenged to consider ways in which they could be more youth-friendly.

Connie Persike 

Welcoming Neurodivergence: Utilizing Picture Books to Support Acceptance & Belonging

Representation matters! Picture books can be utilized to teach many different concepts, themes, and skills. This session will explore the benefits of increasing books that represent neurodivergent learners into all settings. Participants will be provided with time to explore books written by neurodivergent authors as well as books that include neurodivergent characters.

Donald Rosin 

Equity, Culture, and Communication Equals Results

We will explore how we understand equity and culture. Once we understand these two traits then we can communicate with service providers and vice versa. Understanding our ideas of equity will show our strengths and short comings. Defining Culture will help us work with one another to get our desired results. With communication, we can accomplish anything.

Caroline Rossing & Cheri Sylla

Focus on IEPs: Making Lemonade Out of Lemons

Interactive session on how to make the IEP meeting experience more welcoming and collaborative. Participants will leave this session with ideas, tools, and strategies to put into action at their next IEP meeting.

Erika Sanders 

Creating Welcoming Communities: Fair Housing Rights for Children with Disabilities

Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on disability, including disabilities of children, and yet this type of discrimination is common. This presentation will describe forms of housing discrimination faced by families, how families may seek reasonable accommodations and modifications in housing situations, and how fair housing laws can be enforced.

Robyn Hardt Schultz

To Be Announced

Sandy Shaffer 

Trauma-Informed Healing, Substance Use Disorder, and The Brain

Participants will experience an interactive training that will identify how the brain is affected by trauma and substance use disorder, how this impacts the brain and our ability to treat trauma, and will understand the limitations of traditional talk therapy. Participants will learn to identify brain/body dysregulation and how dysregulation increases the risk of relapse and lack of progress toward identified goals. Participants will experience simple activities to be used when working with trauma and SUD clients to promote healing in others and self.

Deborah-Jean Smith & Sarah Winterhoff 

You Can’t Ride in My Little Red Wagon

In this session, we will discuss the Importance of building a rapport with families and individuals that struggle with anxiety and other mental health challenges.

Guy Stephens 

Misunderstood: Shifting from a Punitive Mindset

Misunderstood kids are more likely to be restrained, secluded, suspended, expelled, and subjected to corporal punishment. While many acknowledge that behavior is communication, children are often punished in the name of behavior. In this session, we will discuss how a different lens on behavior can reduce and eliminate punitive practices.

William Stewart 

Reptiles and Therapy: Implications for Utilizing Reptiles within the Therapy Session

I am a clinical director in Kenosha, and a professional reptile keeper. Reptiles are fascinating and misunderstood animals and can be excellent tools to engage clients and promote positive therapeutic change. This presentation will explore the implications of using reptiles as effective therapy tools for children.

Angela Sullivan & Patty Werber

Better Mental Health for Everyone: Self-Help for Teens and Adults

For 85 years, Recovery International has helped adults change thoughts and impulses through a 4-step, self-help, CBT Method. By managing daily trivial events that get us worked up, we can live more peaceful and productive lives. Teen workbook also available. Session includes demonstration of the Method.

Jamie Lynn Tatera 

Self-Compassion for Children and Caregivers

Self-compassion is an inner resource that can help adults and children develop mental and emotional resilience. Join Jamie Lynn Tatera, developer of the Self-Compassion for Children and Caregivers program, for an experiential workshop designed to help caregivers learn to help children develop the inner resource of self-compassion.

Connor Tiggerus 

Co-creating Well-coming Spaces of Wonder

The current state of children’s mental health is an indicator best summed up by the metaphor “a canary in the coal mine”. This early warning of danger is a call to action for the mindful, compassionate co-creation of “well”-coming spaces of wonder for everyone’s overall “well”-being.

Jennifer Townsend 

Think Differently! to appreciate what works

Think Differently! After what we’ve go through daily… this just makes sense. Together we will explore ways to notice what’s working and dig into the 3 i’s of engagement by sharing ideas to enhance and appreciate ourselves. These past few years have been different and the focus of this session is to discover what is working, dream about what might be, design what could be and deliver what will be, all while valuing ourselves. I hope you choose to think differently and join me in this session.

Andrea Turtenwald & Amy Marsman

Social Connectedness of Youth in Wisconsin

The Office of Children’s Mental Health (OCMH) is leading a collaborative effort to increase the Social Connectedness of Youth in Wisconsin. In this session, attendees will learn about the categories of social connectedness, review Wisconsin data, and consider recommendations for how systems, communities, and individuals can support youth social connectedness.

Michelle Uetz 

Welcoming Parents/Caregivers to the Table

More parents and caregivers will participate in their child’s care and education when they feel welcome. Parent and caregiver participation is the key to resiliency and for the child to thrive.

Carrie Waters  Schmidt 

The 529ABLE: The Lower-cost Alternative to a Special Needs Trust

Many Special Needs families are aware of a Special Needs Trust, but are not as familiar with the 529ABLE. We will review how the 529ABLE can allow for individuals to have more money than is allowed for federal and state benefits without affecting their benefit eligibility. We will review what the 529ABLE is, who qualifies for one, the rules on how money can be saved and used, and even how it can coordinate with a Special Needs Trust.

Michael Witkovsky 

Mental Health, Psychiatry and Juvenile Justice: the Roles of Descriptions, Diagnoses, and Doctors

This workshop will explore the various typologies of thought/mood/behavior/intellect/etc. that present in juvenile corrections. We will discuss the process of how these aspects of youth are converted into psychiatric diagnoses. The importance and value of diagnosing, and the diagnoses themselves, will be reviewed. I will then take us on a walk through the acts of ‘doctoring’ incarcerated youth to examine the difficulties, the impossibilities, and the wonders (yes, they exist) of psychiatric treatment of incarcerated youth.

Ann Yurcek 

Creating Welcoming Environments for All Children

In this workshop, I will tell the story of acceptance, inclusion and friendship and how we created that for our medically complex and multiply disabled son and a special kindergarten teacher. Mac, a very complicated child adopted from the foster care system, needed a teacher who would think outside the box. Together his Mom and teacher created the social opportunities of friendship and learning. We talk about homebound and school-based instruction, and strategies that can be used with all children. We can do it! 

Dear Conference attendee – Vote early or absentee!

Due to site availability, day two of this year’s Children Come First Conference falls on Election Day (Nov. 8).

Wisconsin Family Ties encourages all attendees to exercise their right as citizens and vote early by Absentee Ballot prior to the event. 

Every registered Wisconsin voter can request an absentee ballot. 

If you are not registered, you have until October 19 to do so online at or later if you choose to register in-person at your local municipal clerk’s office. Please check with your municipal clerk’s office for specific in-person registration hours/deadline information.

If registered or once registered, you need to then request an absentee ballot. Requesting an absentee ballot can be made online at or in-person at your local municipal clerk’s office.

In addition to the municipal clerk’s office, there may be other designated in-person early voting sites in your area. Please check with your municipal clerk’s office for times and locations. 

Follow instructions to make sure your ballot is submitted properly

Be sure you follow the step-by-step instructions on the Absentee Ballot to make sure it’s completed and submitted properly. That includes, placing the completed ballot in the certified envelope, sealing and signing the certificate envelope, and making sure your witness adds their address and signature as well.

For questions about voting by absentee ballot please call your municipal clerk’s office or visit 

Registration deadlines 

Absentee ballot deadlines 

Voting deadlines 

Conference Testimonials

If you were to tell others about your thoughts on the Children Come First Conference, you would say, ‘The Children Come First Conference…’:

  • Is a great time to rejuvenate your motivation to continue doing what you do to help others.
  • Is a must for all that have contact with children. It is life changing to experience this conference. So many times we as adults and care takers get stuck in thinking. We owe it to our future to learn how to work with , and even communicate together. Experiences shared are with love and great detail. It helps learn the lived experience in different situations. This is my second year attending and I will attend every year.
  • Is an enlightening conference that gives you new perspectives on forming and continuing relationships with children and adults. You are taught not to adhere to old paradigms, but rather embrace new ideas that may become the new paradigms of the future.
  • Is very well organized and has great information, presenters, and even good food and great conference centers.  All around A plus conference.
  • Great Presenter.  He made me cry – empathy for his trauma.  He inspired me to be a better Resiliency Factor for children.  Thank you Hector.  We have your back too!

Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
1305 Kalahari Dr, Wisconsin Dells, WI 53913

Reservation Website:
Main Website:

Toll-free Reservations:  1-877-525-2427
Local:  608-254-5466


Wisconsin Family Ties
16 N. Carroll St., Ste. 230
Madison, WI 53703

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Supporting families & changing lives by improving children's mental health.

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National Federation of Families

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Supporting families & changing lives by improving children's mental health.


Wisconsin Family Ties
16 N. Carroll St., Ste. 230
Madison, WI 53703

Phone & Fax

Support Our Work


National Federation of Families

Follow Us on Social Media