Radio Kempe

Get to Know Kathi Wells: Her Vision and Dream for the Kempe Center

May 15, 2024 The Kempe Center
Get to Know Kathi Wells: Her Vision and Dream for the Kempe Center
Radio Kempe
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Radio Kempe
Get to Know Kathi Wells: Her Vision and Dream for the Kempe Center
May 15, 2024
The Kempe Center

Dr. Kathi Wells is the Executive Director at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. In this brief yet insightful conversation, we discover Kathi's vision for the Kempe Center, joined by Michelle Davis, Director of JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) at Kempe. Kathi shares her goals to further the Center's mission and discusses how her leadership aims to create a meaningful impact on the safety and well-being of children, youth, and families. She also delves into her guiding principles and the values that illuminate her work at the Kempe Center.

Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Kathi Wells is the Executive Director at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. In this brief yet insightful conversation, we discover Kathi's vision for the Kempe Center, joined by Michelle Davis, Director of JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) at Kempe. Kathi shares her goals to further the Center's mission and discusses how her leadership aims to create a meaningful impact on the safety and well-being of children, youth, and families. She also delves into her guiding principles and the values that illuminate her work at the Kempe Center.

Welcome everyone and welcome back to Radio Camp.

I am Michelle Davis, the Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the Camp Center for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect.

Here at Radio Kempe we cherish the sense of community that brings people together to support one another, and share experiences.

lift each other up and find ways to move forward.

Today we want to welcome Dr. Kathy Wells, executive director at the Kim Center to discuss her role in the complexity of child abuse and neglect.

Our mission is to explore how we can best support children, youth, and families in need.

Our passion and humility drive us to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another, as we strive to prevent child abuse and neglect.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


I'm Michelle.


Michelle Davis




Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Hi, it's great to spend a little bit of time with you. Thanks for the opportunity.


Michelle Davis


Yes, I mean, I'm looking forward to this conversation.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Yeah, I am, too.


Michelle Davis


So let's just kind of start with who you are. Who is Kathy Wells.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


You know, Michelle.

My job my career is really

for me. It's more than just a job. It's a vocation. And yet

I recognize, and I increasingly recognize, that who I am professionally is very tied to, who I am personally, who I am as a person my experiences, and my history.

you know. So I like to sometimes start with. Really, I'm not just a pediatrician and the Director of the Center. But I'm a daughter and a sister. I am an aunt, a partner, a dog, a mom, a girl from Montana. You know those are all part of who I am, and my experiences, and honestly

I think.

have a lot of influence on how I view the world that I work in. This is where my journey is, and I think that we all should

realize that, and embrace that, and then also what those limitations might be, and how I might see the world

even more differently if I walked in different shoes. And so how do I open myself to that?


Michelle Davis



beautiful. We're often we're a product of our own experiences. So

in all that, you are all that you've described, what drives you or pains you, or even excites you.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe




Michelle Davis




Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


You know, I think I'm most driven by and excited by hope.

you know, in in the in the years that I've been doing this work in a lot of different ways, as both a general pediatrician in the child abuse field. And then in in this role, I've really been


inspired by people that I have met along the way. Sometimes people from very, very different experiences that I have had. I mean really just the strength of the human spirit.

And what we can do when we work together, when we really take them the time to be curious, and listen and learn and lean into

one another's individual.

Get individual

you know, strengths that they bring so I you know. I think that that hope piece drives me.

I think I'm most pained

honestly by divisiveness and by

I think this this when things become less clear the tendency is to want to make them clear. And I think sometimes when we do that, we push each other away, or we try to convince someone else why, my viewpoint might be right, and I think in that process we lose the opportunity to really be open to another way of seeing things or doing things.

And so I think I'm most pained by that and hopeful. I am hopeful that we can

can embrace ways to be in relationship and learn more together rather than try to

to shout what we think to be true, which might be very different from someone else.


Michelle Davis


Yeah, I would imagine that

is a trait that really supports you, and the work that you do as a child abuse pediatrician.

where there's a lot of

often there's black and white, but it's also hugely complex.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe




Michelle Davis


Aren't easy.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Yeah, a, absolutely. I think when I decided to choose this subspecialty, I thought that actually getting more training and working in the field, I would have more clarity, and it's honestly

probably been less right, I think, as we understand people's experiences when I've sat and talked with people that have experienced

things very different than me. It helps me understand. Maybe the circumstances that brought them in front of me.

And I

you know some of our predecessors, Dr. Brian Steele used to say that when you didn't understand someone's behavior you didn't have enough history.

and I think that's really important, because

to not judge someone else's experience or behavior actions by the lens in which I have, which I am becoming more and more aware of right because that wasn't maybe the lens that they had and the experiences that they had. And so it's really important to try to be open to what someone else's experiences may be, so that I can better understand and better care for them. Support them.


Michelle Davis


Yeah, yeah.

love that.

What was your vision or your dream for the center? When you became the executive director.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


You know, I took this role on because I was

really aware of the rich history of the center, the

the bravery of folks that came before me that were aware of something that

other people maybe weren't aware of or didn't want to speak out about

and all the work. This has been done, in everything from clinical work to research, to

to educational work, and really to take that. And to take that legacy which

I've learned over the years is more complicated than I originally viewed it as but really to say, how do we take the talents and the skills and the expertise


partner with our networks partner with others in the field, including

the folks that we serve to drive practice and innovate ways, to address

child abuse and neglect even into the 20 first century, and the unique challenges. And really to combine services for all kids and youth and families as well as serving professionals

through enhanced partnership. So that I think really was my original goal. I think it evolves as we learn and grow. I was a year into my role when Covid hit, and then all the things that happened in the following summer, and

it really

created maybe opportunity to think about things differently.


Michelle Davis



what would be one of those things that you felt?

Hmm, I need to think about this differently. I need to kinda

fold this into my vision

as the director of the center.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Well, Michelle, I can tell you one thing that I hadn't articulated specifically as a as a part of my vision, which I think maybe

I hope somewhere within me was there but wasn't articulated specifically, was honestly your role. And thinking about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

and even belonging, as we think about the work that we do. And you know, I think that

everything that happened, everything that honestly the pandemic, and then the violence

that became more visible, I guess. It wasn't that it was never there, but became more visible in in the summer of 2020

I think.

really challenge me to look at maybe even my areas of potential growth and experience and


I think in that process. I thought I had to make all the right decisions initially. And then, when I realized that I was, you know, really

had an opportunity to embrace the wisdom and expertise of those around me and lean into. That was when we really decided that it a core aspect of what we wanted to be and do at the center was really elevate

issues around Jedi

And then then how we did that! I actually my first attempts at trying to do that. We're not, we're not what they needed to be. And I was, had a lot of

great support around me, not the least of which was you that just really was patient with what we needed to do to do this the right way.


Michelle Davis



what I love about what you're saying is,

there is always. We're never going to get 100 of everything that we do right.

but there's opportunity in that. It's opportunity to learn, and opportunity to grow and emerge, and new.

with knowledge of where we came from to embrace where we are to carve a path forward, which is one of the reasons why you made the bulk commitment to have a Jedi director as part of your core leadership team.

can you share a little bit about how you wrestle with the values? Maybe personally or professionally, and maybe wrestle is not the right word.

We all tend to it. All kind of tends to come to mind for us. It's like, Am I in the right space. Am I doing harm? Am I not doing harm? How is this enhancing the work that I do? All of that to me? Is the word wrestle

as we try to become more of an inclusive

and aware organization.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


yeah, you know, I, I think some of it. Some of the things that you and others have taught me along the way that I think sometimes to

the tendency is to not say something or do something, because we're afraid it might be the wrong thing.

and I think that having

the space, the support that the

patience around us to

that allows us to so to

to take a chance right, and if and if

a and if what I've you know, what I or someone else's said is maybe not as enlightened or not as open as it should be, is to know that

others will gently, you know.

take the opportunity to.

to reframe things, to open my eyes to something differently.

and really the grace around that right, I think, you know, I think just giving each other grace in a world that oftentimes feels a little bit vulnerable, right?


Michelle Davis


I think is.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Especially in a leadership role. We have this sense of like, we're supposed to have all the answers. As a physician. You know that's certainly the hope right. If you, if your position walks in the room, you want them to have confidence that they have the right answers. And yet.

I think that

really the ability to

be open to not having all the right answers, but to try to create the space

so that those answers can become available to myself, to others.

and sometimes things change right sometimes. What we thought to be true has is, we've learned more, you know, medicine is like that, right? I mean, there's a lot of things that we thought were

that that we're really wise years ago, and that we've learned maybe are not as effective as we thought they would be or, frankly, are just not the right approach to it.

Treatment for a

health condition. And so I think, just creating the space to go


I would just think about failing.

failing fast and failing forward. Right? It's really only a failure. If you don't learn right from what the experience was.


Michelle Davis



What you're saying reminds me of a concept that I've learned through Renee Brown. It's called Sis. She refers to systemic vulnerability versus vulnerability, relation, relational vulnerability.

and as a physician no, we don't want that systemic vulnerability. We want our physicians to know and have knowledge in terms of how to treat us.

But relational vulnerability is being able to step into the place where you're continuing to learn and acknowledging mistakes, or even acknowledging

impact versus intention, and holding all those.

Holding all those together like I, I can be a knowledgeable person, a knowledgeable physician, and I can also relate with others from a humble stance. That's the story that I'm getting from who Kathy Wells is.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


No, I think you nailed it. Michelle, I

I also think that when we have an expectation to always get it right? We also don't create the space for

for people to learn and grow right? And we've learned that in medicine over the years right, that we want to create a space that if something's not right, anyone can say anything.

because and turns out in some of, for example, Amy Edmondson's work is really fascinating. Right? We find out that when we actually create the space to call out an error we actually make less errors right but when people don't want to say when maybe something didn't look right then that actually sets us up for much bigger mistakes. And so I think,

yeah, I appreciate that the distinction between institutional and personal

you know, I think that's really well said, yes.


Michelle Davis


Yeah, yeah.

is there anything else you would like our audience to know about you or the center? This is an opportunity for us to tell our story about

the great work that we're up to

on behalf of the children and the families that

may seem at a distance from us, but not so much at a distance from our pediatricians.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Yeah, I, I


Michelle Davis


Treat them.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


I think that.

you know there are a couple of things that I know to be true. I think we, as a society as both individuals and a collective want kids to be safe.

I think that the disagreements sometimes are about how we get there.


I also worry that

that if we don't start with those common agreements

and then acknowledging the different ways we might get there, or what that might look like or the impact.

Then we're we're gonna spend a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of really important

resources that honestly, our kids and our families

really could use

trying to argue for one side or the other as opposed to trying to figure out how we

build bridges in these complex places. So I think you know, my, my hope at the center is really, how can we create the space

for having these complicated arguments, discussions

and delving into these complex issues in a way that builds bridges rather than

you know, enhances the conflicts that can occur.

I think that. The other thing is, I think, that you know, as researchers, as academicians, you know, we want to lean into where there's evidence and apply that, and we should we should and yet, if we

take that bulk, that information that is applied on a broader scale. And try to apply it to individuals without a thoughtfulness or a sensitivity, that there are unique aspects to the individual circumstance. I think that we can run a risk of not really addressing families, kids.

systems where they really need to be addressed as individuals rather than that sort of broader, broad stroke approach.


Michelle Davis



sounds like a call to really begin to listen to one another


not stand on a particular interest, but to really listen so that we can all

achieve the goal of meeting the needs of children and families in this space.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Yeah, a, absolutely. I think it's when we

we're all better together. Right? We're better when we can take the collective wisdom. And really listen

not just to each other as professionals, but really the families and the kids that

that we're doing our best to serve. That's when we come up with the bold.


innovative solutions.


Michelle Davis



love that

all right

on that note. I just want to thank you all. Thank all of our listeners for joining us on this journey. Your commitment engagement are invaluable as we work together to make a meaningful difference. Thank you, Kathy.


Kathi Wells (she/her) @ Kempe


Thank you. Michelle.