Partnering to Bring Family Connects to North Texas

The time around birth—whether it’s your first or fifth, you’re adopting or fostering a baby, you’ve just given a baby up for adoption, or you’ve lost your baby—is an immensely vulnerable time for all families. Parenting, however it looks for you, doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But what if it came with a study buddy? Someone who could check in on you, answer your questions, point you in the right direction, and share this moment with you?

This is Family Connects, a short-term evidence-based program in which registered nurses visit families in the first few weeks after a birth, adoption or foster care placement of a newborn, or pregnancy loss, to check in and see how families are adjusting, and connect families to community resources they need. Family Connects comes at no cost to the family and is available to all —it sets the expectation for how a community cares for its families, regardless of their personal circumstances. It is also short-term—Family Connects aims to connect families to the right services for them at the right time, rather than duplicate or replace those services. Most families only need one visit, but nurses can provide up to three visits, if necessary. All families receive a follow-up call one month after their last visit to confirm that they have connected with their referrals and  had their needs met or are receiving services.

During the home visit, a Family Connects nurse assesses the family to identify their needs. Overwhelmingly, families do need information and resources: Family Connects has found that 95% of families have at least one nurse-identified risk or need. Some parents may need help finding a pediatrician, managing postpartum depression or anxiety, or getting connected to housing or food resources. Others may need referrals to programs and services for family members or a link to support groups for parents in similar situations.

Nurses are not case managers and Family Connects does not duplicate existing services. Based on the individual family’s needs, the nurse uses a searchable database to identify a community resource or service provider, such as a diaper bank, home visiting program, or early childhood intervention, that addresses the family’s need, makes a warm handoff to a local service provider, and follows up with the family to close the loop and make sure the family was connected to the resource or service. In so doing, Family Connects strengthens the web of community resources and referrals. The data collected by Family Connects helps inform community leaders and stakeholders of emerging trends, gaps in resources, and successful connections, which can be used to make decisions about community priorities and resource allocation.

Much like Family Connects brings the community together around families, the program itself is strengthened by the partners who make it up. As TexProtects began looking for partners to support the program in Dallas, we learned that MHMR of Tarrant County and the Early Learning Alliance were also looking at bringing the program to Fort Worth. 

At this moment, we realized two critical things:

  1. Our programs may start and end at Highway 360, but our families don’t. North Texas is one community made up of not only Dallas and Fort Worth, but also Arlington, Plano, Cleburne, Forney, Frisco, Mansfield, and other cities and towns. We need to be forward thinking about how we can structure our programs to meet families where they are and how they live, rather than to easily fit our administrative structures.
  2. We are stronger when we work together. It didn’t make sense to have two separate Family Connects programs in North Texas when we could go through the process together, learn from one another, leverage each other’s strengths, and build one infrastructure that could support both counties and the region as a whole.

Since May of 2019, our Family Connects North Texas team has set itself up to provide one North Texas structure with two parallel branches—east (Dallas) and west (Tarrant). Based on a community needs assessment of North Texas, implementation began first in Arlington and Cleburne (west) in November 2019. During COVID-19, Family Connects has transitioned to providing virtual services. Isolated from their families, friends, and traditional support networks, parents are more eager than ever to receive these virtual connections.

As we all navigate this period of reopening our state and rebuilding our economy, we know there are so many competing needs, but our families must come first. We believe Family Connects can play an important role by helping new families get connected to the resources and services they need, so that parents and their newborns can get off to a strong start. As parents quickly find out, none of us can do it alone and we can all benefit from connections. Similarly, our organizations can’t do this alone. As we continue with our planning in the east (Dallas), we are grateful for the many partners who are working with us on funding and implementation planning to make a Dallas Family Connects pilot a reality.

Frontline for Children | April 2020

Where Science Meets Policy

Child Protection Research

Touchpoints for Addressing Substance Use Issues in Home Visiting: Phase 1 Report (Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation – OPRE)

 “Minimal research has focused on the ways home visiting programs can effectively engage and support families affected by substance use issues. This report describes what is known and what needs to be learned about this topic based on a literature review and review of current practices around six ‘touchpoints’ and four ‘implementation system inputs.’”

TexProtects’ Takeaway: The Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) presents unprecedented opportunity to expand home visiting programs to better meet the needs of families at risk of entering the foster care system. By preventing, identifying, and addressing behavioral health, these programs can put families on a safer and more secure trajectory. With 68% of removals linked to substance use, we must do better at providing families with help before a crisis occurs.

Being Healthy and Ready to Learn is Linked with Family and Neighborhood Characteristics for Preschoolers

This brief uses a new pilot, National Outcome Measure of Healthy and Ready to Learn, to “understand how family characteristics, the activities in which families engage, and their neighborhood circumstances are associated with preschool children’s health and readiness for learning.” The authors found that strong family characteristics, healthy parents, and supportive neighborhoods all play a role in being ready to learn.

TexProtects’ Takeaway: Protecting children means supporting the families and neighborhoods in which they live! A parent’s physical health and mental health as well as the presence of anger, routine, or family strength all impact a child’s health and school readiness.

Continuity and change in the home environment: Associations with school readiness (Korucu, I. & Schmitt, S.)

“This study examined the continuity and change in the level of the quality of the home environment across ages 3 and 5 and its association with school readiness outcomes (i.e. attention regulation, language skills, social–emotional skills) at age 5.”

TexProtects’ Takeaway: The quality of the home environment influences a child’s development and learning. Even during change and instability, families with protective factors and responsive relationships can help children develop healthy social emotional skills and executive function for success in school and life.

Child Protection Policy

Top Federal Child Welfare Officials: Family is a Compelling Reason (Chronicle of Social Change)

This article, by Jerry Milner, associate commissioner of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, and David Kelly, special assistant to the associate commissioner, describes the importance of strong continued family connection for children in foster care during the COVID-19 crisis. “As we struggle to develop responses and adapt [to social distancing], we cannot forget the simple fact that children miss their parents, parents miss their children, and that absent aggravated circumstances, they deserve a fair shot to be together or get back together as soon as there is not a safety risk. Further, it is not merely a matter of longing for contact, it is a matter of healthy brain development, maintaining critical bonds, and prevention of trauma that can persist for generations.”

TexProtects’ Takeaway: Now, more than ever, we must protect and support parent-child relationships which are so primary for resilience and health. We have been presented an opportunity to innovate and reimagine systems that will better reflect our values to protect children, preserve families, and prevent trauma. May we use the teachings of this crisis to do better for our children.

The State of Preschool 2019 (National Institute for Early Education Research – NIEER, Rutgers Graduate School of Education)

In partnership with Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, NIEER covers the national state of preschool in 2019, including enrollment, access, quality, and important developments across all 50 states. The report also offers recommendations for federal and state governments to support preschool programs through the current economic crisis.

TexProtects’ Takeaway: Students are eligible to participate in the Texas Public School Prekindergarten program if they meet at least one of the following conditions: qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (185% of Federal Poverty Line), are homeless, are in foster care, have a parent on active military duty or who was injured or killed on active duty, are unable to speak or comprehend English, and/or have a parent eligible for the Star of Texas Award. Only 9% of 3-year-olds and 49% of 4-year-olds are enrolled in public Pre-K in Texas. Based on the Child Maltreatment Risk Mapping done by UT Population Health, community rates of school enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds can be protective – one factor that may contribute to decreased risk for child abuse and neglect in a community.

Child Protection Practice

Ways to Promote Children’s Resilience to the COVID-19 Pandemic

This fact sheet explores the ways in which families and communities can jointly promote protective factors to buffer children from harm and increase their chances of adapting positively to adversities like COVID-19.

TexProtects’ Takeaway: Protective factors like meeting basic needs, social connectedness, and support for caregiver well-being may be especially difficult during COVID-19. That’s why it’s important to remember that it’s ok to ask for help. Protective factors grow with connection and support.

10 Parent Strategies During COVID-19

10 strategies for parents and caregivers to thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

View the Resource.

10 estrategias para los padres y cuidadores durante COVID-19

10 estrategias para padres de familia y cuidadores durante COVID-19.

Ver el Recurso.