‘What happened to you?’ – Rep. Tan Parker on Adverse Childhood Experiences

State Rep. Tan Parker has been a champion at the Texas Legislature this session in the drive to help prevent and mitigate the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences, including authoring this op-ed, which was published in the Houston Chronicle and Galveston County Daily News. His House Bill 4183 is key to this effort, as he explains below.

“What’s wrong with you?”

That’s a common question we ask when children act in a self-destructive manner. Maybe they’re being disruptive in class, misbehaving regularly, hurting themselves or even having violent thoughts.

growing body of research suggests that “What’s wrong with you?” is actually the incorrect question. The better one is: “What happened to you?”

It has been widely known traumatic experiences suffered early in life — known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) — can leave deep emotional scars. But many studies now show that the effects of trauma can be even more profound than previously believed. These experiences can actually disrupt healthy development and change a child’s brain architecture in ways that impact behavior and health throughout an entire life.

Recognized ACEs include child abuse and neglect, death of a parent, having a parent with a mental illness, an incarcerated parent or caregiver, substance use and family violence. Sadly, it’s estimated that 24 percent of Texas children have experienced multiple ACEs.

That’s a serious public health crisis that requires a cross-systems, comprehensive strategy to solve.

To that end, I have partnered with TexProtects (the Texas Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America) to make that vision a reality by authoring House Bill 4183 to address the challenges that ACEs pose to our children.

ACEs are often cumulative — exposure to one increases the likelihood of exposure to others. Researchers have found compound exposure increases the likelihood of suicide, depression, substance use, obesity, smoking and leading causes of early death such as stroke, heart attack, cancer and diabetes. Among Texas children with multiple ACEs, 17.2 percent have repeated a school grade (compared to 2.7 percent of children with none), 31 percent are more likely to have two or more chronic health conditions (compared to 10.5 percent with none) and 59 percent have no consistent, comprehensive medical care.

But childhood adversity does not have to dictate a child’s future health and success. By appropriately addressing ACEs (as well as root causes), children and families can build resiliency, allowing them to thrive despite adversity. Research shows a supportive, responsive relationship with an adult in early life can prevent or mitigate the damaging effects resulting from childhood exposure to chronically stressful experiences.

Under HB 4183, Texas would deploy a strategy coordinated across state agencies, child well-being and faith-based organizations, neighborhood schools, local medical and mental health service providers, criminal and juvenile justice and the philanthropic community. By bringing together stakeholders from multiple domains, Texas will be able to better understand the prevalence and patterns of adversities in Texas communities, identify best practices and service gaps and chart a path forward so that Texas systems and communities are better prepared to implement approaches that can truly change the trajectory for the estimated 3.4 million Texas children experiencing ACES.

A blueprint for our communities may include strategies to train and educate professionals to prevent and assess for ACEs, then referring for effective services; providing trauma-informed behavioral counseling; providing high-quality early childhood education; making available voluntary programs that strengthen parenting skills; identifying best practices for Child Protective Services; and successfully treating mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

The economic impact of ACEs is staggering. Child abuse and neglect alone will cost Texas taxpayers an estimated $1.75 billion for Child Protective Services in 2019. The lifetime costs of abuse and neglect victims in 2018 — across the education, health care, criminal justice and welfare systems, as well as lost future earnings in the workforce — will add up to more than $58 billion, based on estimates provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Every year Texas waits, those billions accumulate, more lives are damaged, and we ultimately pay a much higher price.

Rep. Tan Parker represents District 63 (Denton County).

To learn more about Adverse Childhood Experiences, see our report at http://bit.ly/acesuncovered


Reasons I’m HOPEful…

Why are you hopeful for Texas children and families? That’s the question we’re asking as we launch our #TexProtectsHOPEful social media campaign during Child Abuse Prevention Month – and continuing well beyond April! This campaign celebrates the efforts of good people all over the state working to prevent and protect children from abuse and neglect!

We got a great answer from Michelle Heflin of Buckner International, the nonprofit that administers the Project HOPES program in Gregg, Upshur and Harrison Counties. So great, in fact, that it deserves more than just a Tweet, so we present it here as a full blog post. Enjoy!

In July 2014, I welcomed my first child into the world and quickly realized that for the past 10 years of my professional career in social services I may have been giving impractical parenting advice to parents and foster parents. It was not intentional, but when you’re in the parenting trenches and the 2am wake-up cry has you sleep-deprived, you quickly learn it’s a whole other ball game – theory versus practice.

Shortly after my initiation into motherhood, the nonprofit I work for, Buckner International (www.Buckner.org), was awarded the Project HOPES contract in September 2014 for the Texas counties of Gregg, Upshur and Harrison from the Prevention and Early Intervention Division of the Department of Family and Protective Services. We selected the Parents as Teachers home visiting (0-5 yrs.) program, which focuses on parents being the first teacher of the child through developmental milestones and school readiness.

Through the program, I found that the information delivered to families really pertained to being a new parent and parents confirmed their feeling of support by having a plan for those 2am wake-up cries. Accurate information about child development and appropriate expectations for children’s behavior at every age helps parents see their children in a positive light and promote their healthy development.

Why is parent education so important for the prevention of child abuse or maltreatment? Because having (1) Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development is just one of the Five Protective Factors within families.

The other Protective Factors include:

(2) Parental Resilience – No one can eliminate stress from parenting, but a parent’s capacity for resilience can affect how a parent deals with stress.

(3) Social Connections – Networks of support are essential to parents and also offer opportunities for people to “give back,” an important part of self-esteem as well as a benefit for the community.

(4) Concrete Support in Time of Need – Meeting basic economic needs like food, shelter, clothing and health care is essential for families to thrive.

(5) Social and Emotional Competence of Children – Challenging behaviors or delayed development create extra stress for families, so early identification and assistance for both parents and children can head off negative results and keep development on track.

There is a correlation between low Protective Factors within families and the prevalence of child abuse or neglect. If we are going to prevent or lower the child abuse rates in our communities and therefore potentially decreasing the need for children to be removed from their home, this is the key.

I’m hopeful for the children in our community because parents that engage with Buckner Project HOPES (www.Buckner.org/Project-HOPES) to increase Protective Factors have also taken on tasks of reaching goals within their family. Goals like obtaining an associate’s degree then moving onto a bachelor’s degree, securing more stable housing, moving from underemployment to a living wage and feeling better prepared to parent.

It has been my observation that many of these goals are accomplished because they first felt successful as a parent! When families are strengthened and are mutually responsible for better outcomes for their children, that is the essence of the meaning of our slogan at Buckner International: “Hope shines here.”®

For more information on Project HOPES, click here.

Tell us in the comments – why are you #TexProtectsHOPEful?

86th Texas Legislature Update: Mid-April

The 86th Texas Legislature is almost two-thirds complete. Here is the status of the major bills TexProtects is supporting:

The Fiscal Years 2020-21 Budget (House Bill 1)

Our major goal for the 86th Legislature is to secure increased investments in family support home visiting programs – specifically an additional $12 million for Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and $18.5 for the HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) program. The majority of child maltreatment occurs in the most formative years for children and 75% of child abuse fatalities over the past five years were children under age 3. Texas needs these most proven and effective programs for reducing child maltreatment for children between the ages of 0-5. Currently both the House and Senate versions of the budget fall short of those goals.


For Nurse Family Partnership, the Senate included an additional $2 million dollars. The House, thanks in large part to the efforts of Representatives Button and Meyer, added $5.8 million dollars to NFP. For Project HOPES, however, the House only included $1.5 million new dollars and the Senate didn’t appropriate any. The differences between the two versions will have to be ironed out in a conference committee between the two chambers. House conferees are Reps. John Zerwas, Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria and Armando Walle; Senate conferees will soon be appointed.

TexProtects will monitor negotiations between the House and Senate and will advocate for larger investments (thus reaching more families who would benefit) in the final budget.

Child Protective Services

Overall, the House version of the 2020-2021 biennial budget includes $3.9 billion (an increase of $311.8 million from 2018-2019) in Child Protective Services funding, while the Senate version includes $3.8 billion (an increase of $271.7 million from 2018-2019).

Included in these amounts is $2 billion in the House version and $1.9 billion in the Senate version for client services programs, including foster care, adoption subsidies, permanency care assistance payments, relative caregiver monetary assistance payments, and day care. The House appropriated funds for rate increases for certain foster care providers. Both the House and Senate included $1.6 billion for CPS direct-delivery staff, including services provided through Community-Based Care. This amount includes increased funding to maintain lower caseloads for most caseworkers – the House version would reduce caseloads for conservatorship caseworkers, and the Senate version would reduce caseloads for conservatorship, kinship, foster and adoptive developmental home (FAD) and residential child care investigators. The House version expands Community-Based Care into two new regions and into stage 2, which includes case management, in Region 3B. The Senate version expands Community-Based Care into two new regions and into stage 2 in Regions 3B, 2, and 8A.

Behavioral Health Services

The House appropriated $4.1 billion (an increase of $665.4 million) while the Senate included $3.1 billion (a decrease of $275.9 million) for behavioral health services at the three health and human services agencies, which includes funding for community mental health services; mental health services for veterans; inpatient mental health services at state-owned and community hospitals; and substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment services.

Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)

Finally, funding for Early Childhood Intervention services totals $372.8 million (an increase of $83.4 million) in the House version for the 2020–21 biennium. The Senate appropriated $313.1 million for ECI services, representing an increase of $23.7 million.

For additional details related to the funding amounts for the Department of Family and Protective Services throughout the legislative process, please review this table.

Non-Budget Bills

HB 3718 (Rep. Tan Parker with Reps. Zerwas, Huberty, Miller, and Senfronia Thompson): This bill would require school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to implement a trauma-informed care policy (including staff training) and incorporates trauma-informed training into the existing continuing education hours teachers complete each five years. This bill is part of TexProtects’ call for a statewide strategy to mitigate and prevent trauma from Adverse Childhood Experiences and other sources of trauma. On April 11, HB 3718 was reported favorably from the House Public Education Committee, and now, it should head to the full House for a vote.

HB 4183 (Rep. Tan Parker with Reps. Zerwas, Miller, Sanford and Senfronia Thompson): This bill is key to our Adverse Childhood Experiences campaign, requiring multiple state agencies across the child protection, justice, education and health care systems to create a statewide strategy for preventing and mitigating ACEs. Testimony on HB 4183 was heard in the House Public Health Committee on April 3 and was voted out favorably on April 15.  We look forward to a House vote on the bill soon.

Senate Bill 355 (Sen. Royce West with Sens. Kolkhorst, Lucio and Menéndez): SB 355 tasks DFPS with creating a strategic plan to maximize prevention funds available through the Federal Family First Prevention Services Act. Family First marks a key shift in federal policy, allowing money that was previously reserved strictly for foster care (in other words, after a tragedy has occurred) to be directed toward programs designed to prevent children from ever needing foster care (before tragedy occurs). Funds can be used for evidence-based substance use prevention and treatment, mental health care, and in-home parenting programs to strengthen families so that children can remain safely at home. SB 355 passed the Senate on March 20 and is currently in the House Human Services Committee.

HB 12 (Rep. Sarah Davis): This bill strengthens the Early Childhood Intervention Program by streamlining processes to receive services, requiring health benefit plans to cover services, creating a tele-health pilot to increase access, and requiring the ombudsman office to collect data on complaints and make recommendations on how to improve the provision of services. HB 12 received a hearing in the House Human Services Committee on April 9 and was left pending in committee.

HB 18 (Rep. Four Price and others): In response to ongoing concerns with school safety as well as recommendations from the House Select Committee on Mental Health, HB 18 provides students and educators with training and resources on mental health and substance use. Included in this very comprehensive bill is language that would ensure that trauma-informed practices are integrated into school environments and included in teachers’ continuing education. HB 18 has made it through the House and is on its way to the Senate.

HB 474 (Rep. Donna Howard): HB 474 will expand the data that is available as part of the  foster care needs assessment to better understand where there are service gaps affecting pregnant and parenting foster youth. In addition to collecting information on prenatal, postpartum, or parenting supports for youth, it also collects information on placements that will be reimbursable under the Family First Prevention Services Act, including: licensed residential family-specialized substance use treatment facilities; qualified residential treatment programs; supervised independent living; and settings specializing in serving survivors of human trafficking. HB 474 will be considered by the House Human Services committee this week.

HB 475 (Rep. Donna Howard): Ensures pregnant and parenting youth in care receive basic parenting education and services that will help strengthen and preserve their young families. HB 475 specifically will make available to these youth information on: safe sleeping arrangements; recommendations for safety childproofing their home; methods to manage crying infants; the selection of appropriate substitute caregivers; early brain development; the importance of meeting an infant’s developmental needs by providing positive experiences and avoiding adverse experiences; the importance of paternal involvement; the benefits of reading and talking to young children; and the impact of perinatal mood disorders. HB 475 will be considered by the House Human Services committee this week.

HB 1110 (Rep. Sarah Davis): This bill expands Medicaid coverage for pregnant women from 60 days after the birth of a child to 12 months after delivery. This ensures that new mothers have access to critical health care in the postpartum period to increase health outcomes for moms and children. HB 1110 received a hearing in the House Human Services Committee on April 9 and was left pending in committee.

HB 2030 (Rep. John Turner): This bill provides that if a child is eligible for pre-K at 3 years old, they remain eligible at 4 years old. The House Public Education Committee passed a committee substitute version of the bill and reported it favorably to the full House.

HB 2832 (Rep. Dade Phelan): This bill requires the Health and Human Services Commission to work with the Department of Family and Protective Services to promote and track referrals to Nurse-Family Partnership programs. HB 2832 received a hearing in the House Human Services Committee on April 2 and was left pending in committee.

SB 708 (Sen. Judith Zaffirini with Sen. Campbell)This bill ensures that HHSC and other stakeholders have access to critical data on child safety. This bill directs the commission to collect data on caregiver-child ratios and group size standards as well as serious violations and injuries. This information will allow leaders to better understand if state minimum standards are sufficient to ensure that enrolled children are being cared for in supportive and safe environments. HB 708 received a hearing on April 16 and was left pending.

April Is Child Abuse Prevention Month!

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April is here, and that means it’s national Child Abuse Prevention Month (CAPM)!

In 2017, TexProtects | Champions for Children also became Prevent Child Abuse Texas – the Texas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA). This year, PCAA and all of its state chapters are spreading the message: Preventing child abuse and neglect can be simpler than you think – often, all it takes to create great childhoods is to Do More of What You Love.

Yes, it’s that simple. By channeling your interests into the lives of children, your neighbors, and your community, you can uplift them and give them the strength and resiliency they need to thrive.

All parents want to provide for and nurture their child in a positive, healthy environment, but sometimes they need a little support along the way – and they don’t know how to ask for it. In a national survey, 94% of parents said they needed help of some kind; 86% said they would be grateful for services, childcare or other support. However, in a separate study, fewer than 20% of parents said they would actually seek help.

So what can you do?

Love sports? Coaching a youth sports team can make a huge difference in children’s lives!
  • Love to read? Volunteer for an after-school reading program or book club – you’ll help kids meet new friends and spark their imaginations, too.
  • Love to cook? Give a new mom a break by bringing over dinner, offering to run an errand, or babysitting.
  • Love sports? Coach a youth sports team to teach kids the value of teamwork – they’ll learn how to trust teammates and themselves.
  • Love to play host or hostess? Host a kid-friendly BBQ or organize a block party so parents can socialize without the stress of finding a sitter – social connections with other parents help to establish a strong support network.
  • Want your voice to be heard? Contact your elected officials and urge them to support policies and programs that promote safe, healthy childhoods. (TexProtects can definitely help you with this: Just go to texprotects.org, look for the “Stay Updated!” box, and sign up to receive our legislative advocacy alerts. Also, see our 2019 Legislative Agenda and our Legislative Advocacy Portal.)

To see more of how Small Steps Can Make a Big Difference, visit this resource page by Prevent Child Abuse America: https://preventchildabuse.org/small-steps-2019/

For a listing of 2019 Child Abuse Prevention Month Events near you, please click here.