Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mauer promotes child wellness

Jennie Mauer


In 2014, Jennie Mauer joined the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, where she is director of the Head Start State Collaboration.

Public Service

Jennie Mauer served for four years on the Tenant Resource Center's board of directors. In 2009 she joined the La Follette School's advisory board that strengthens relationships among its faculty, current students, alumni and friends. "La Follette plays an important role for the state in training policymakers," she says.

She and classmate Andria Hayes-Birchler are still in training, this time turning their attention to a physical challenge: the 2011 Ironman Wisconsin, a race in which participants swim 2.4 miles, bicycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.

During her second year at La Follette, Mauer served as the student association's social chair and used the position to build a strong sense of community within her cohort.

"It is important to build networks, and we all forged close friendships through all of our La Follette experiences," she says. "Having that sense of belonging and feeling supported is important personally and professionally."

Jennie Mauer uses her communication and analytical skills to enhance and improve child wellness in the city of Milwaukee.

The 2008 grad is the state coordinator for Project Launch, a federally funded program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in partnership with the City of Milwaukee. Project Launch helps to improve the health of young children and their families by promoting the wellness of children from birth to 8 years of age by addressing physical, emotional, social, cognitive and behavioral aspects of their development.

Mauer is the connection between the Milwaukee agencies and DHS and the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. The project focuses on families living in eight low-income zip codes in Milwaukee, and part of Mauer's job is to identify programs that could be carried out statewide. "I am also looking for ways to use what works in Milwaukee to build an integrated system to support children and families around the state," says Mauer, who also prepares the quarterly and annual reports for the project.

Project Launch has five components to promote child wellness: developmental screening; mental health consultation; home visiting; integration of behavioral health into primary care; and expanded use of parental support and family-strengthening programs.

Mauer likes the proactive aspects of the program and how it targets systemic change to help people improve their lives and outcomes for their children. "Project Launch helps parents acquire skills and learn about tools for helping their children," Mauer says "For example, the mental health consultation can help parents and child-care teachers identify ways to modify situations to help children succeed. Children with behavioral challenges are far more likely to get expelled from their child-care than they are from kindergarten through 12th grade. Parents and child-care providers work together to devise strategies to help children succeed. Those successes improve family stability and will carry over as the children move through the educational system."

A 2003 University of Wisconsin–Madison grad, Mauer came to La Follette after working for Bread for the City, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C. She represented low-income clients in their interactions and hearings with the Social Security Administration and provided some case management services. While at La Follette, she interned with Smoke-Free Wisconsin, which successfully lobbied for the state's ban on tobacco use in public places. She also worked part time for the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family services as a program and planning analyst in the secretary's office. "I did everything from research to, communication and outreach, and tribal affairs," Mauer says. "I also did a lot of work on the transition of DHFS into DHS and the Department of Children and Families, including adapting DHFS's tribal consultation policy for use by DCF."

Mauer researched racial disproportionality within Wisconsin's child welfare system for the secretary's office, laying the groundwork for what became a 2009 La Follette School public affairs workshop report. Upon graduating in May 2008 with a master's degree in public affairs, she continued with the agency that became DCF on July 1, 2008, and recommended to the deputy secretary that the agency consider collaborating on a workshop report. "I knew from my experience that the capstone workshop was a great opportunity for DCF to capitalize on the available and qualified research skills of La Follette students," she says. She and her group examined how to use housing trust funds to finance lead hazard control as a means of reducing childhood lead poisoning.

Mauer then spent a year and a half at the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, working on audits of the Department of Transportation, the Blue Cross Blue Shield conversion from a nonprofit organization to a private health insurance company, tribal gaming, and considerations of overtime and furloughs for state employees. "The position at the Audit Bureau was a little bit of everything," Mauer says, "and the experience really prepared me for the next step in my career. I solidified the skills I learned at La Follette."

The policy analysis skills are vital in her work with Project Launch, Mauer says, even though she is not working with datasets most of the time. "Learning and practicing policy analysis gives you a way to look at an issue and a topic. The statistics background lets me take a more critical look at data."

She says she is glad she focused on the technical skills the La Follette School offers, rather than focusing on a topic area. "Performance management, program evaluation, public budgeting, I think those classes are vital, and the skills and experiences are really key. They made me more marketable," Mauer says. "I have become the 'data person' to a lot of people, which I wouldn't have anticipated."

Since graduating, Mauer has come to realize she processes information differently than some of her colleagues. Her La Follette training prompts her to collect information and organize it in a way that helps her outline processes for getting through a project, the steps to be taken and the details to be remembered. "Program administration and evaluation, policy analysis, the logic models, these are not common tools, but they are tools I use on a daily basis," she says. "La Follette teaches all that."

Last modified on Thursday, July 2, 2015