How To Address Loneliness In Our Youth During COVID-19

Most people feel lonely at some point in their lives, but two landmark Cigna studies found that more than half of respondents reported some degree of loneliness, with young people being the loneliest among all the generations studied. What happens when the loneliness epidemic converges with the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping many students at home away from their friends at school and tethered to their screens for e-learning? In the recent TexProtects Connects Lunch & Learn “Addressing Loneliness in Our Youth During COVID-19” presented by Cigna, Dr. Stuart Lustig, National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health at Cigna, discussed the challenges of e-learning for parents, kids, and teachers–and how to best support everyone involved.

Loneliness is a subjective term related to both body and mind. There is a vast difference between feeling lonely or experiencing loneliness and being alone.  Feeling lonely is about wanting more social contact or different types of social contact than we may currently have. It’s not abnormal to be lonely at different times in our lives, but people who are lonely may have a greater number of physical ailments and experience greater depression and/or anxiety.

In Cigna’s Loneliness study [], conducted pre-COVID-19, they surveyed 20,000 adults online across the U.S. Researchers found that 54% of respondents reported feeling lonely based on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Researchers also found loneliness increased with each younger generation. For example, 43.2% of the Boomer generation reported feeling lonely, and 49.9% of Gen Zers reported loneliness in 2019.  

Loneliness is especially a big issue in our country right now, with kids largely being homeschooled due to COVID-19 (although some school districts across the country and in Texas are beginning to open to in-person instruction). The way a lot of our students are connecting now is through online tools. But lower-income students are less likely to have access to high-quality remote learning. Low-income students are also less likely to have an environment conducive to learning like a quiet space with minimal distraction or high-speed internet. The data shows that only 60% of low-income students are regularly logging into online instruction. This barrier to technology and education can have significant impacts down the road.

With the anxiety of the changes in how school is taught, how can we help our kids navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic and loneliness epidemic with resiliency? Dr. Lustig says children are naturally resilient, but we also need to remember to check in with them, listen without judgment, and without interrupting. Listen to your child until there is nothing else to be heard. Normalize difficult feelings and model that difficult emotions are okay by sharing how you manage your frustrations. Dr. Lustig says we must also help kids master the emotional ABCs: ambiguity, bumps, and change. We must help them practice accepting and not knowing, recognize they can’t control all the outcomes, permit imperfection, and remember how they’ve managed change in the past while staying in the present.

We can also help our kids prepare for online and in-person instruction through shifting routines and sleep schedules into school mode, talking about school differences and similarities, acknowledging their worries, and expressing confidence in their abilities to navigate school in whatever format it takes.

Dr. Lustig says to remember to care for yourself as well. Take a look at the Cigna Stress Plan []   to help you figure out how to manage stress, especially since many of us are grieving the freedom and stress reduction techniques we took for granted that are now no longer available to us.

We are unfamiliar ground, without a real playbook for parenting during the pandemic. Good enough is the standard – there are no perfect parents, and mistakes are how we learn. Not only can we help our children thrive through the pandemic, but we can also make sure we succeed as well.    Watch the full webinar for more great information on loneliness and tips on parenting from Dr. Lustig.

Insight into DFPS priorities for 2022-2023

While we can likely all agree that 2020 has been a year that has somehow simultaneously flown by and dragged on, one thing is certain: the 87th Legislative Session is right around the corner and will be here before we know it. This session brings with it lots of unknowns about how it will be conducted, and state departments have been preparing for a tight budget to carry out their operations. The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recently released their Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for Fiscal Years 2022-2023 which has given us some insight into their priorities for the children and families they serve. 

Looking Back 

Last session, DFPS started out with a $4.2 billion baseline request and was able to secure more funding in several key areas. With this additional funding, the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division expanded Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes though Prevention and Early Support) and Texas Nurse-Family Partnership (TNFP) into four new counties each. DFPS also provided a $6,000 salary increase to Statewide Intake (SWI) staff, which has resulted in decreased turnover and hold times. Increased funding was allocated to increase staffing for the Child Protective Investigations (CPI) and Child Protective Services (CPS) workforce which, according to DFPS, has decreased caseload sizes. Additionally, Community-Based Care received funding to expand to a total of five catchment areas: three in Stage I and two in Stage II (case management). While DFPS achieved its goal to advance two areas into Stage II (Regions 3B and 2), only two areas currently operate in Stage I (Regions 8A and 1). They are re-procuring the contract in Region 8B to hopefully begin Stage I services in the summer of 2021. Provider rates were also increased to help serve the children in their care.  

In light of a global pandemic, state agencies have since had to make adjustments due to the anticipated $4.6 billion shortfall to the entire state budget. State agencies were asked to reduce their expenditures by 5%. While parts of DFPS were exempt from this reduction, DFPS’ total estimated expenditures for Fiscal Years 2020-2021 are estimated to be $4.4 billion.  

Looking Ahead 

DFPS is entering into the next biennium with a $4.5 billion baseline request, which reflects growth forecasts but is impacted by the previous 5% reductions. According to DFPS, this required making some additional funding asks just to get back to a maintenance level of operations. In a typical legislative budget cycle, one would expect numerous exceptional items above DFPS’ baseline request. However, with the current economic climate in the midst of a pandemic and a costly ongoing federal lawsuit, DFPS’ approach to the budget is narrow in scope and only aimed at initiatives they consider to be most necessary. DFPS’ LAR includes requests for an additional $192 million to carry these out. 


While approximately $182 million in exceptional items focus on the functions once a family has experienced crisis, it was most promising to see requests for additional investments in keeping families safely together and preventing removals. DFPS specifically included an exceptional item request for an additional $10 million investment in PEI services, specifically Project HOPES, the Family and Youth Success Program (formerly known as STAR), and the Military Families Program. Citing the costs of each program in comparison to the cost of foster care services, DFPS acknowledged these services as a “cost-effective alternative to foster care.” DFPS also included a placeholder to discuss how to leverage the funding opportunities in the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). Their FFPSA strategic plan provides numerous options to carry out the prevention provisions of this federal legislation, and they want the Legislature to weigh in.  


DFPS has prioritized maintaining its current CPS operations to ensure they are keeping children safe and providing families with the supports they need. This $99 million request includes additional funding to restore the travel costs that decreased during the beginning of the pandemic, ensure they can continue providing services to clients at the current levels, and additional conservatorship (CVS) caseworkers to meet the target caseload sizes.  

To comply with the decade-long federal lawsuit, DFPS included an additional request for $39 million. This amount includes additional staff to meet the heightened monitoring requirements to ensure facilities are adhering to minimum standards and additional staff for Residential Child Care Investigations (RCCI) to address the Court’s concerns about the timeliness and quality of their work. These additional funds also will cover the fees for the court monitors to oversee compliance and report back to the Court. 

To continue the momentum of expanding Community-Based Care, DFPS has requested an additional $44 million in funding for the costs associated with expanding Stage I into four new areas and Stage II into two new areas. 

We look forward to working with DFPS and the Legislature to protect and support investments in child abuse and neglect prevention, to promote family preservation, and to ensure the children and families in their care receive the services they need to be safe and successful. Stay connected with us for updates on budget discussions throughout the session and to find out how you can get involved. 

Here’s How TexProtects Has Been Advocating for Texas Children and Families in October

TexProtects has been hard at work advocating for children and families. Recently, we submitted comments in response to Requests for Information (RFI) from three different legislative committees on how lawmakers can leverage the funding opportunities in the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), invest in early childhood brain development, and ensure the trauma-informed training components of House Bill 18 and Senate Bill 11 from the last legislative session are implemented successfully.

The Texas House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II and the Texas House Human Services Committee asked for the public to weigh in on how Texas is preparing for federal funding changes resulting from FFPSA. With the passage of this federal legislation, states now have access to a funding mechanism for families to be connected to evidence-based, trauma-informed prevention services in the community to prevent removals into foster care. We provided them with our assessment on the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) strategic plan on how they plan to implement FFPSA, and we laid out opportunities we see for Texas to take advantage of this potentially transformative legislation. You can check out more specifically what we had to say in our RFI submissions here and here.

The Texas House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article II also asked for comments on how the state invests in early childhood brain development. Knowing how critical these early years are, we encouraged the committee to fund community-based, primary child abuse prevention programs for children prenatal to age 5. We also advocated for the expansion of universal prevention strategies in public health settings since healthcare settings remain one of the most universal touchpoints for families with young children and can connect families to critical services during a very vulnerable time. To strengthen families and ensure child safety prior to a crisis, we also took the opportunity to ask the committee to support our additional Prenatal to Three (PN-3) Collaborative agenda items. More information about our comments can be found here.

The Texas Public Education Committee requested recommendations on the 86th Legislature’s House Bill 18 and Senate Bill 11 regarding school safety, student mental health, and trauma-informed training. We suggested providing additional guidance and incentives for pursuing activities that are evidence-based and have the potential to prevent future threats to school safety by preventing and mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences. We also provided recommendations on how to implement the trauma-informed training components. You can find more information on our recommendations here.

While we are passionate about making smart investments to ensure families have the resources they need and children are safe, we can’t do this work alone. We need your help to ensure these efforts move forward. Feeling motivated? We encourage you to reach out to your state representatives and talk to them about the importance of these issues and what they can do for the children and families of Texas. Not sure who represents you? You can find out by going here and entering in your information. We look forward to locking arms with you to make Texas better for the children and families who call this state home.

What to Expect for Child Welfare Funding in the 87th Legislature

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recently released their Legislative Appropriations Request. In a typical legislative budget cycle, one would expect numerous exceptional items. However, with the current economic climate in the midst of a pandemic, DFPS’ approach to the budget is narrow in scope and only aimed at initiatives they consider to be most necessary.

It was most promising to see requests for investments in keeping families safely together and preventing removals. DFPS specifically included an exceptional item request for an additional $10 million investment in Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) services, as well as a placeholder to discuss how to leverage the funding opportunities in the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).

DFPS also prioritized maintaining its current Child Protective Services operations to ensure they are keeping children safe and providing families with the supports they need. The other exceptional items included funding to comply with the decade-long federal lawsuit and to continue the momentum of expanding Community-Based Care.

Stay tuned for our analysis coming on this page soon!