FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 16, 2019
Contact: Lee Nichols
Photos of the press conference available upon request. See video of the press conference here.
Science Meets Policy
ACEs Uncovered: Powerful preventative strategies to promote resilience and brain health for a better Texas tomorrow
Austin, Texas — Adverse experiences early in life, known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, can result in trauma that potentially affects the brain architecture of developing children. In 2016, an estimated 3.4 million Texas children had one or more ACE. Child maltreatment in its many forms makes up half of the recognized ACEs. Advocacy group TexProtects, Champions for Safe Children, estimates child maltreatment cost Texas over $55 billion in 2017.
A coordinated, statewide strategy across the healthcare, child welfare, early childhood education and justice systems can prevent and mitigate the impact of trauma, and equip children, families and communities with the resilience to have healthy futures.
That’s the conclusion of ACEs Uncovered: Powerful preventative strategies to promote resilience and brain health for a better Texas tomorrow, a new report by TexProtects, unveiled Wednesday at the Texas State Capitol. Flanked by Texas lawmakers, TexProtects CEO Sophie Phillips said that building a statewide collaboration will take the support of the 86th Texas Legislature.
“Chronic health problems, criminal or risky behaviors, and poor academic and workforce performance can all result from ACEs – but with the right support structures and prevention strategies, it doesn’t have to be that way,” Phillips said. “With the help of our lawmakers, Texas can build a cross-systems, preventative approach that leads to self-sufficient families, healthier children and taxpayer savings.
“TexProtects will push for this coordinated system throughout the legislative session, especially on February 12, when we will bring child protection advocates, including 125 seventh-grade students from Dallas, from across the state to the Capitol for a day of action,” Phillips added.
Katherine Snyder, Child Abuse Pediatrician for the CARE Team at Dell Children’s Hospital, provided some expert perspective on ACEs: “Stress is a normal part of life, but exposure to chronic stress has important consequences on the short and long term physical and psychological health of the child and the adult they become. Intervening as early as possible to create safe environments, healthy and protective relationships and empower healthier coping mechanisms for the child and caregiver is paramount to the overall health of the community and society.”
Phillips and key lawmakers laid out three priorities for the session, which began on January 8:
• Develop and implement a statewide strategic plan to address causes and symptoms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
• Strengthen investments in community-based, primary child abuse prevention programs like home visiting.
• Improve coordination and effectiveness of services for children at risk of entering foster care.
Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, said that the emerging science of Adverse Childhood Experiences must be thoroughly ingrained into Texas’ care of children who have been abused and neglected. On Tuesday, he introduced House Bill 4183 which will facilitate coordination of agencies in developing a statewide strategic plan.
“In the past, when children or adults have engaged in high-risk or socially unacceptable behaviors, our reaction was to ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Today, we realize the better question is, ‘What happened to you?’ If the adults in their life helping them on that journey don’t understand what they’ve endured and how it still affects them, then those children have higher odds of falling short in education, in health – including mental health – and in personal relationships,” Parker said.
State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond and a physician who served as Chair of the House Appropriations Committee in the 85th Legislature, spoke of the value of making prevention programs available to families:
“Evidence-based, voluntary prevention programs such as home visiting produce stronger, more self-sufficient families, and save taxpayers money. But Texas is reaching only 5% of the 423,000 families with children under 6 who can benefit from prevention services. We can do better! Investments in proven programs, such as Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) prevent negative outcomes and avert costs in the criminal justice, health care and educational systems,” Zerwas said.
In its legislative appropriations request, the Department of Family and Protective Services is asking for $5.5 million to help NFP reach an additional 550 families in each year of 2020 and 2021, in turn saving Texas taxpayers over $31 million by preventing negative outcomes. DFPS is also requesting to expand the community-driven HOPES program by $9.4 million to reach an additional 1,200 families.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas and a TexProtects Advisory Board member, emphasized the need for the Legislature to leverage new federal funds made available by the Family First Prevention Services Act. Tuesday, he introduced Senate Bill 355 to enable this.
“Family First provides flexibility for states to use money previously reserved only for foster care and channel it toward programs that prevent children from ever being removed from their homes. But the Legislature will need to strengthen the infrastructure and effectiveness of programs eligible for Family First funds,” West said.
“Last session, the Legislature and Governor identified child abuse and neglect as a key issue and took historic steps in changing how our state deals with it. But it is critically important that state leaders and the public realize: The efforts in 2017 did not mark an end point in Texas’ fight against child abuse and neglect – it marked a beginning,” Phillips said.
Advocates wishing to RSVP for TexProtects’ Child Abuse Prevention Day at the Texas Capitol on February 12 (including a free, round-trip bus ride between Dallas and Austin) may do so at http://bit.ly/2019PCATDay.
ACEs Uncovered: Powerful preventative strategies to promote resilience and brain health for a better Texas tomorrow may be accessed any time at http://bit.ly/acesuncovered
TexProtects, Champions for Safe Children, was created to tackle issues of Child Protective Services (CPS) reform, prevention and public awareness to bring a collective, organized voice representing the needs of children at risk of abuse and survivors of child abuse and neglect. TexProtects is the Texas Chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. TexProtects is autonomous, nonpartisan and nonpolitical, designed to educate decision makers, private funders and the public at large. To date, it is the only Texas organization that has a dedicated focus on the main issues of protection, prevention, and healing of abused and neglected children. For more information, please visit www.TexProtects.org.