How To Get Involved During the Interim

Your Voice – and Action – Matters Between Legislative Sessions

As summarized in our last blog post on the legislative interim, the work toward next session really does begin now.

During the interim, legislators and their staff spend more time in both their district and capitol offices, which means they have more bandwidth and availability to develop relationships and learn more about topics of interest. The voice that matters most to legislators, is the voice of their constituents. So while the work of session can often seem complicated, overwhelming, and better left to the professionals (which it’s not!), the interim is the period in which local providers, stakeholders, parents, teachers, and YOU can use their voice to speak up for Texas kids.

Keep this in mind while bending the ear of a legislator: You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to understand the political system. You don’t have to know all the data inside and out. This is where the support and expertise of TexProtects can come into play – but we need you to tell your story and why it matters.

To speak to your district’s policymakers, you simply have to share your values (and it certainly helps understand theirs!), experiences, knowledge, and the issue/topic to which you’re passionate. Then, let them know that their community is expecting them to deliver in ways that are meaningful. In our case – that is keeping kids safe and empowering our families to thrive.

Maybe you have ideas about what needs to change regarding the issue at hand. Maybe you have some ideas about solutions – even better! Maybe you have personal experiences with children or families that you know will provide a compelling narrative and is the extra push needed to see change happen. If you follow the work TexProtects does, if you are reading this blog, if you engage with us on social media, you definitely have a story and a connection to your community that could deepen and inform the conversation around how to make meaningful change in child welfare.

If you’re ready to get involved, here are few ways you can begin:

  • Find out who represents you and find a way to get to know them and their staff.
    • Go to a campaign event or a town hall.
    • Schedule a visit to talk about topics of interest.
    • Invite them to an event that highlights critical issues and programs to build investment.
  • Attend an event! TexProtects holds community events through the state year-round on child protection related issues. Check our website for any upcoming events.
  • Join local and statewide collaboratives on your areas of interest to amplify your voice and inform your positions. For example, TexProtects provides leadership for the following collaborations: TexProtects Public Policy Committee, Texas Prenatal to Three Collaborative, the Child Protection Roundtable, and the Home Visiting Consortium. Contact if you are interested in more information about those collaboratives.
  • Write a letter of thanks to legislative champions. Everyone appreciates a thank you and unfortunately, our policy makers often hear from their constituents only when they are unhappy. Take time over the interim to thank your legislator for their public service and take the opportunity to point out a child protection bill from last session that they supported. You can use our end of session report to get a list of important bills from last session. Texas Legislature Online will let you search for a bill to see who voted for it, what actions were taken toward it, and the language of the bill. If you need assistance, contact TexProtects would be glad to help you draft the letter or determine which bills might be relevant to mention.
  • Be sure you are signed up for our newsletter and advocacy alerts (sign up in the orange box on our home page and connect with us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to stay up to date on the latest child welfare news  and state and federal policy. We will let you know when there is an important hearing so that you can attend, stream online, or provide written or oral testimony.
  • Have a policy idea related to child protection? We want to hear it!

If you hit a roadblock or need a cheerleader, a contact, or a data point, please don’t hesitate to reach out, we are here to help.

The Work Toward Next Session Starts Now

The 86th Interim Committee Charges and Child Protection

The Texas Legislative Session takes place for 140 days every two years; but it may be a misconception to call it a part-time legislature. The laws passed during the session are the result of work that starts during the interim – the more than one-and-a-half years between the end of one session and the beginning of another.

Although the legislative session gets the majority of the attention, it’s important to understand the significance and opportunities of the interim. During this time, advocates strengthen relationships with legislators and their staff and educate them on issues that will inform their work and the bills they support the following session.

The Governor and the Lieutenant Governor kick off the interim with charges that instruct committees in the House and Senate on what to monitor and examine before the next session. The committees engage in discussions, research and hold public hearings to produce an interim report, inclusive of recommendations forthe next legislature. Charges typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills passed by the previous legislature as well as directives toward emerging priorities and issues.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released Senate charges on Oct. 30, 2019. Most of the charges that affect child protection went to the Senate Health and Human Services committee chaired by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Child protection related charges in the Senate include the following:

Rural Health:

  • Examine and determine ways to improve health care delivery in rural and medically underserved areas of the state.
  • Determine whether additional funding provided during the 86th Legislative Session has helped to ensure more accessible and quality health care in rural areas.

Strengthening Families:

  • Examine Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) procedures and grounds for placing a child into the child welfare system and the termination of parental rights.
  • Make recommendations on ways to protect children who are involved with the child welfare system while preserving families under state law.
  • Identify ways faith-based and other community organizations can assist in preserving or reunifying families involved with the child welfare system.


  • The continued implementation of Senate Bill 11 (85th Legislature) and Community-Based Care by DFPS,
  • Child Care Quality and Safety, and
  • Maternal mortality and infant health initiatives, including the women’s health programs administered by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).

On the House side, this interim has presented some unique challenges. The first few months of the interim were disrupted by a political scandal involving Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) that resulted in his decision to resign his seat, which he has held since 1997. This also means he is leaving his position as Speaker of the House for the next session. This creates some challenges; there is less clarity about leadership and priorities for next session. But there also is an opportunity for the House Committees to pursue their work during the interim given more autonomy.

Adding to challenges in the House is the absence of Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), a longtime House member and chair of the Appropriations Committee – and a dear champion for child protection issues. He will not be seeking reelection – leaving a vacancy on that committee that only the Speaker of the House can fill. With new leadership, every week counts. The Appropriations Committee typically spends the 18 months between sessions to prepare the budget. This year’s budget exceeded $200 billion and the budget is the only bill that every Legislature is required to pass. The appointment of the Appropriations chair will be critical to the political dynamics and the efficiency of the House during this interim.

Challenges aside, Speaker Bonnen released his full list of more than 200 interim charges on Nov. 25 of 2019.

House Charges related to child protection spread across several committees including Appropriations, Human Services, Public Education, Public Health and others. In addition to monitoring charges related to many of the child protection bills from last session, TexProtects is particularly excited that the House is studying the following topics over this interim.

Early Childhood Brain Health:

  • Examine state investments in the health and brain development of babies and toddlers including Early Childhood Intervention and other early childhood programs for children in the first three years.
  • Evaluate opportunities to boost child outcomes and achieve longer term savings (Appropriations Article II subcommittee).

Family First Prevention Services Act:

  • Review how Texas is preparing for state and federal budgetary changes that impact the state health programs including the Family First Prevention Services Act (joint charge for Appropriations Article II and Human Services Committee).

Community Based Care:

  • Monitor the implementation and expansion of Community Based Care by DFPS (joint charge for Appropriations Article II and the Human Services Committee).


  • Former Foster Youth and Post-Permanency Care (HB53, HB72, HB123, HB1702),
  • Child Care Quality and Safety (SB568, SB569, SB706, HB680),
  • Behavioral Health in Schools (HB18, HB19, HB906),
  • Maternal and Child Health (HB253, SB436, SB748, SB749), and
  • Rural Health (SB633, SB670).

As lawmakers return from the holiday break, the committees will begin posting notices for hearings on these charges. Stay tuned for our next blog in this series which will outline ways that you can get involved and work alongside TexProtects to ensure that every child (and their family) is safe, nurtured, and resilient.

How Did Behavioral Health & Trauma Fare in the 86th Texas Legislature?


  • Behavioral health is a term used to refer to the connection between physical and mental health and a person’s behavior
  • At least 25% of Texas children have experienced multiple adversities that are likely affecting their ability to succeed at school.
  • Half of all mental health conditions have presented before age 14.
  • 68% of removals in 2017 were related to parental substance use.

Welcome to the fourth and final part of our look at how child protection legislation fared in the 86th Texas Legislature. We began this series in May with our top-priority bills, followed by an examination of prevention and early intervention legislation and child protection systems.

Today’s post looks at bills affecting behavioral health and trauma. For a PDF version of this post, click here.

Behavioral Health and Trauma Background

Challenges with mental health can be both a cause and a consequence of early childhood adversity. Therefore, both prevention and healing require adequate systems of care to ensure children and their parents have access to mental health care and services that incorporate trauma-informed approaches that can be both healing and protective.

In the 86th Legislative Session and in the wake of the shooting at Santa Fe High School and Hurricane Harvey, the momentum around school safety and trauma offered an opportunity to take a meaningful look at the capacity issues in our communities and the ways in which our schools might better facilitate access to care and incorporate strategies that allow children with a trauma history to engage productively and thrive.

Schools are often the first point of contact for students with behavioral health issues, and undiagnosed mental health conditions can negatively impact the academic performance, behavior, and school attendance of students.

Like all diseases, care works best with early intervention when symptoms are less severe and there is less need for more intense treatments, specialists, and medications. However, most schools lack adequate training or staff to address student needs, and most communities in Texas have a shortage of mental health and substance use providers to which families and children might be referred for treatment.

Stress and trauma, both acute (e.g. Hurricane Harvey) and chronic (e.g. abuse/neglect), can place children in “fight or flight” mode. This course overwhelms the brain, including its stress hormone cortisol, and impairs a child’s ability to self-regulate and engage in higher-order thinking. These adverse childhood experiences can disrupt normal development and lead to a higher risk of both mental challenges (e.g. depression and suicidality) and physical challenges (e.g. heart disease and stroke) throughout the lifespan. However, the negative impacts can be mitigated if students are equipped with protective factors through healthy relationships, safe environments and access to care, when needed.

Behavioral health care investments and programs are spread across state agencies including:

  • Health and Human Services Commission
  • Department of State Health Services
  • Department of Family and Protective Services
  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice
  • Texas Juvenile Justice Department
  • Texas Education Agency
  • Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs
  • Texas Veterans Commission
  • Texas Workforce Commission

In addition to state entities, behavioral health services are provided at the local level in jails, hospital emergency departments, schools, local mental health authorities, various nonprofit agencies, public health clinics and other settings, with people frequently moving between service systems.

The goal of behavioral health policies is recovery. Recovery is an ongoing process that enables individuals to mitigate the negative effects of their challenges and trauma and become empowered to make beneficial choices, engage in healthy relationships and create a successful life.

Behavioral Health in the 86th texas legislature

Top-Priority Bills Passed

House Bill 1 – The General Appropriations Act

Champions: Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. John Zerwas

HB 1 funding for behavioral health includes programs or services directly or indirectly related to the research, prevention, or detection of mental disorders and disabilities, and all services necessary to treat, care for, supervise, and rehabilitate persons who have a mental disorder or disability, including persons whose mental disorders or disabilities result from alcoholism or drug addiction. Funding for behavioral healthcare to support programs at 23 state agencies and associated costs within Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program total $7.8 billion for 2020-2021. Some of these services include:

  • funding for inpatient client services at state hospitals and community hospitals;
  • deferred maintenance projects at state mental health hospitals;
  • outpatient services provided through local mental health authorities and local behavioral health authorities;
  • substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment services for adults and children;
  • mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment for incarcerated offenders;
  • mental healthcare services for veterans; and
  • Mental Health Care Consortium.

Some notable increases in investment are found in the table below:

Behavioral Health2020-21 Base BudgetAdditional Investment and House Bill 1 FINAL% Difference
Department of Family and Protective Services for Purchased Client Services$52.8 million$24.4 million; $77.3 million total46.2% +
Health and Human Services Commission$3 billion$303.7 million; $3.3 billion total10.3% +
University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler$8 million$5.5 million; $13.5 million total68.3% +
* Higher Education Coordinating Board$0$100 million total100% +
Department of Criminal Justice$515.8 million$9.8 million; $525.6 million total1.9% +
Juvenile Justice Department$175.5 million$3.6 million; $179.1 million2.0% +

*Funds available to the newly created Texas Mental Health Consortium to be distributed to health-related institutions of higher education for expanding the mental health workforce and for psychiatric fellowships. The Consortium is created through SB 11.

Safe and Healthy Schools Initiatives

Funding for school safety programs includes an additional $343.5 million to expand children’s community mental health, grants to mental health professionals at local mental health authorities provided by HB 19, school safety infrastructure enhancements, a new school safety allotment provided by SB 11; school district reimbursement of post-disaster expenditures, and customized school safety programming and other services.

HB 18 – Trauma Informed Schools

Champions – Rep. Four Price & Sen. Kirk Watson

HB 18 will increase awareness of mental health among public school students and educators, reduce the stigma of mental health issues, and provide more resources on mental health and substance abuse for educators. Through integration in district policy, staff training and continuing education requirements, HB 18 ensures that school staff are adequately trained to understand the impact of trauma on students, implement strategies to minimize the negative impacts, and maximize academic opportunities in an environment of safety and connection, making referrals when needed and with parental consent.

Other Priority Bills Passed

TexProtects Goal – Address students’ mental health needs by increasing access to care and implementing trauma-informed approaches in school environments

House Bill 19 – Rep. Four Price / Sen. Kirk Watson

HB 19 requires local mental health authorities to employ a nonphysician mental health professional to serve as a mental health and substance use resource for school districts. These professionals will act as a resource for school district personnel by
helping increase awareness of mental health and co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, assisting with the implementation of mental health or substance use initiatives under state law or agency rules, and ensuring awareness of certain recommended programs and practices and treatment programs available in the district. The bill will also require the professionals to help personnel facilitate on a monthly basis training regarding mental health first aid, the effects of grief and trauma, and prevention and intervention programs that will help students cope with pressure to use illicit substances.

HB 811 – Rep. James White / Sen. royce West

HB 811 requires that school districts take into consideration whether a child is in the conservatorship of the state or is homeless when making decisions concerning disciplinary actions including suspension, removal to a disciplinary alternative education program, expulsion or placement in a juvenile justice alternative education program, regardless of whether the decision concerned a mandatory or discretionary action.

HB 906 – Rep. Senfronia Thompson / Sen. Beverly Powell

HB 906 establishes the Collaborative Task Force on Public School Mental Health Services to study and evaluate state-funded mental health services provided at school districts or open-enrollment charter schools. The task force will also evaluate mental health services training provided to educators and the impact of the provided mental health services. The task force will share its findings and recommendations with the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and the TEA by Nov. 1 in each even numbered year until 2025.

SB 11 – Sen. Larry Taylor / Rep. Greg Bonnen

SB 11 is the 86th Legislature’s answer to increasing school safety. It includes many provisions related to safety, security, and emergency preparedness and response. In addition, the bill requires a trauma-informed care policy to address methods for increasing staff and parent awareness of trauma-informed care and the implementation of trauma-informed practices and care by district and campus staff. The policy will also address available counseling options for students affected by trauma and grief. In addition, SB 11, amended with language from Sen. Nelson’s SB 10, creates the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium to leverage the expertise and capacity of the health-related institutions of higher education in order to address urgent mental health challenges and improve the mental health care system in this state in relation to children and adolescents.

SB 712 – Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. / Rep. Morgan Meyer

SB 712 provides guidance by naming extreme aversive interventions that may not be used on any student, under any circumstances. By clarifying what behavior modification techniques are prohibited and providing direction on positive alternatives. SB 712 will improve the safety and wellbeing of students, especially those with special needs. The companion to this bill is HB 3630.

TexProtects Goal – Improve access to mental health care, substance use prevention and treatment, and evidence-based treatments and approaches for survivors of childhood adversity

HB 2813 – Rep. Four Price / Sen. Jane Nelson

HB 2813 ensures the continued existence of the Texas Statewide Behavioral Health Council by codifying it in statute. The council is charged with developing and monitoring the implementation of a five-year statewide behavioral health strategic plan and developing a biennial coordinated statewide behavioral health expenditure proposal. This work helps state agencies coordinate and reduces duplication of services, improves the quality and accessibility of services, and saves taxpayer dollars.

SB 429 – Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. / Rep. Eddie Lucio III

SB 429 requires the Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, under the direction of the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), to develop a comprehensive plan to increase and improve the workforce in Texas to serve individuals with mental health and substance use issues. By Sept 1, 2020, HHSC will need to start implementing the plan.

SB 633 – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst / Rep. William Lambert

SB 633 requires HHSC to form local mental health authority (LMHA) groups in rural areas and develop a mental health services development plan for each group. Public mental health services are primarily provided through HHSC contracts with LMHAs. These entities provide or arrange crisis, community mental health, and substance use services; jail assessments; and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This bill increases service access, especially in rural counties, by requiring regional coordination and planning to reduce government costs and negative impacts to individuals in crisis.

SB 821 – Sen. Jane Nelson / Rep. Four Price

SB 821 amends a children’s advocacy center’s duties and a multidisciplinary team’s membership and response. These centers assess victims of child abuse and their families to determine their need for services related to the investigation of child abuse and provide those services. This bill updates the Family Code to more clearly align statute with current practices, standards, services, and operations of children’s advocacy centers, increase accountability, and strengthen access to services.

SB 1177 – Sen. JosÉ Menéndez / Rep. toni Rose

SB 1177 permits a Medicaid Managed Care Organization to offer medically appropriate, cost-effective, and evidence-based services from a list approved by the state Medicaid managed care advisory committee and included in the contract in lieu of mental health or substance use disorder services specified in the state Medicaid plan. This will provide flexibility to providers and access to evidence-based and cost-effective services without additional cost to the state.

SB 1564 – Sen. Royce West / Rep. Stephanie Klick

SB1564 aligns Texas Medicaid policy with federal law by using the federal definition of a “qualifying practitioner.” This will allow more practitioners to prescribe and be reimbursed for buprenorphine, a common medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders. Currently, a large number of Texans who have a substance use disorder do not have access to providers who are able to prescribe them the common opioid antagonist buprenorphine.

Missed Opportunities for Behavioral Health and Trauma

Creating the Texas Mental and Behavioral Health Research Institute

Through HB 10, this research institute would have been able to lead the charge on child and adolescent mental health by funding research, increasing awareness of best practices, and fostering statewide collaborations. This institute would coordinate with the Mental Health Care Consortium to accelerate community access to information, treatments, and training related to behavioral health and substance use. The related HJR 5 would have created a revenue source for this research and increased access to care.

How Did Child Protection Systems Fare in the 86th Texas Legislature?


  • In 2018, there were 280,874 reports of suspected child abuse/neglect to Statewide Intake. 66,370 or 24% of those reports were confirmed.
  • Child maltreatment will cost Texas an estimated $1.75 billion in CPS expenditures in FY 2019 and over $55 billion in total costs across the victims’ lifetimes.
  • 43% of children who complete Family Based Safety Services programming with their families are reconfirmed as victims of abuse within 5 years.

Welcome to the third part of our look at how child protection legislation fared in the 86th Texas Legislature. We began this series in May with our top-priority bills., followed by an examination of prevention and early intervention legislation.

Today’s post looks at bills affecting Child Protection Systems, and next we will conclude with Mental Health and Trauma. For a PDF version of this post, click here.

Child Protection Systems Background

In the 85th Texas Legislative Session (2017), Governor Greg Abbott declared child protection to be an emergency item. That session resulted in unprecedented child protective services (CPS) reforms and investments including:

  • Increases in kinship care through enhanced financial assistance;
  • Expansion of community-based foster care;
  • Treatment-based foster family care in most regions;
  • Salary increases; and
  • Additional hires that lowered caseloads

While those reforms made real progress for the safety of Texas children, there was significant work left to do in the 86th Legislative Session (2019) and much less political will to do it. However, opportunities for continued investment in best practice and improvements to child safety were plentiful. Opportunities presented to the 86th Legislature included:

  • Maintenance – In order to maintain the salary increases, caseloads, and investments in community-based care despite a growing child population and increasing number of child abuse reports and victims, lawmakers had to invest additional dollars or risk losing ground on the changes made last session.
  • Pressure from the federal class action lawsuit – In 2015, Judge Janis Jack proposed significant changes to the CPS system to ensure the constitutional rights and due process of children in the care of the state in response to a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 12,000 children in long-term foster care. While some of the proposals were overturned by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals as overreach, the findings have consistently made clear that the state has work to do to ensure the safety, health, and constitutional rights of children in the conservatorship of the state.
  • Family First Prevention Services Act – This session presented a new opportunity to leverage federal funds made available through the federal Family First Prevention Services Act in two significant ways. First, it makes available new prevention funding to help strengthen families before a crisis by investing in mental health, substance use prevention and treatment, and in-home parenting programs. Second, it requires that federal dollars for children in care be spent on family-like settings and treatment centers that are offering accredited and high-quality care. In order to leverage those dollars most effectively, the Legislature had the opportunity to invest in planning and improved quality that would ready the state for implementation.

Child Protection in the 86th texas legislature

Top-Priority Bills Passed

House Bill 1 – The General Appropriations Act

Champions: Sen. Jane Nelson, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Rep. John Zerwas, REp. Sarah DAvis

General Overview – Although we did not see the urgent and comprehensive focus on child welfare this session that we did in the 85th, there was continued attention on child protection issues. Lawmakers viewed their role this session as one of a gatekeeper – ensuring that the large-scale changes of last session continued to move forward and that implementation was monitored closely. Despite a cut in state funds, when federal funds were included, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) budget grew by 6.1%. In their budget, lawmakers showed continued support for community-based care, increasing the use of kinship care, and the needs of older foster youth.

Area of Budget2020-21 Base BudgetHouse Bill 1 FINAL% Difference
Child Protective Services$3.7 billion$3.8 billion2.2% +

Statewide Intake – At DFPS, statewide intake is the front door for the public to report suspected abuse. Additional investments will improve child safety by minimizing hold times on the statewide intake line. Long wait times can result in dropped calls and increase the risk of abuse going unreported. Investments in this biennium will support salary increases of $6,000, resulting in lower turnover and subsequently, a higher level of experience in the workforce.

Area of Budget2020-21 Base BudgetAdditional Investment & House Bill 1 Final% Difference
Statewide Intake$45.9 million$4.3 million
$50.2 million total
8.5% +

Caseloads – The maintenance of manageable caseloads is paramount to ensuring the safety of children who are interacting with the child protection system. Investments for CPS direct delivery staff will help to maintain lower caseloads per worker for most caseworkers.

Area of Budget2021 Base Budget & Average Daily CaseloadAdditional Investment, House Bill 1 Final, & Projected Average Daily Caseload% Difference
CPS Direct Delivery Staff$1.4 billion$148 million
$1.6 billion total
CPS Investigations13.6 cases13.6 billion
CPS Family Based Safety Services10.2 cases9.3 cases
CPS Conservatorship25 cases23.5 cases

Projected caseloads are included in HB 1 and are estimates from the Legislative Budget Board; DFPS will prepare its own analysis.

Community-Based Care – The Legislature provided funding to continue rolling out Community-Based Care (CBC), formerly named “Foster Care Redesign,” which changes the way the state delivers foster care services. Under CBC, a private contractor (called a “Single Source Continuum Contractor [SSCC]”) is responsible for building and managing foster care capacity and placements for a specific service region in the state. CBC has been rolled out in Region 3B (seven-county area including Tarrant County), Region 2 (30-county area in North and North-central Texas that includes Wichita Falls and Abilene) and Region 8A (Bexar County). Additional investments this session will provide resources to expand into Region 8B (16 counties surrounding Bexar), and Region 1 (41 counties in Panhandle), as well as add case management work to the existing contracts.

2020-21 Base BudgetAdditional Investment and House Bill 1 Final% Difference
Community-Based Care$434.5 million$66.9 million
$501.4 million total
15.4% +0

Foster Care Provider Payments – Foster care families and other providers are essential to building capacity in the foster care system so it meets the current demand, as well as ensuring positive outcomes for children and youth in conservatorship of the
state. The Legislature provided additional investment of $12 million in foster family support, certain residential providers and emergency shelters.

Supervised Independent Living (SIL) and Preparation for Adult Living (PAL) – DFPS provides both SIL and PAL programs to assist older youth in their transition toward a successful and self-sufficient adulthood. Without supportive housing and access to training and resources, youth are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, are at higher risk of teen pregnancy, have lower high school graduation rates and are more likely to experience homelessness and unemployment. SIL increases of $1.8 million will support case management services for children with more complex needs and increase the rates paid to providers for services. PAL increases of $1.5 million will support 10 additional specialist positions.

HB 475

Champions – Rep. Donna Howard and SEn. Kirk Watson

HB 475 will ensure that pregnant and parenting foster youth receive basic information about ways to keep their child safe and promote healthy attachment, child development, and maternal health if they cannot or choose not to participate in Project Helping through Intervention and Prevention (HIP). Project HIP makes available evidence-based, in-home parenting programs to pregnant and parenting foster youth; however, it is voluntary and not currently available statewide.

Other Priority Bills Passed

TexProtects Goal – Efficiency and Best Practices in CPS and Foster Care

Senate Bill 195 – Sen. Charles Perry / Rep. Tan Parker

SB 195 requires DFPS to update their case tracking system to allow DFPS to keep statistics regarding alcohol and controlled substances when funds are available. This detailed information will allow the department to better understand the correlations between substance use and child abuse/neglect as well as the impacts of prenatal exposure to alcohol and controlled substances on children.

SB 781 – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst / Rep. Ben Leman

SB 781 will establish regulations for child safety, runaway prevention, quality contracting, and strategic planning for facilities that provide 24-hour care to children such as residential treatment centers and emergency shelters. The strategic plan outlined in the bill will help ensure that state agencies are prepared for the implementation of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.

TexProtects Goal – Increased Use of Kinship Care

HB 1884 – Rep. Ina Minjarez / Sen. Carol Alvarado

HB 1884 requires that when a child is placed with a relative or other designated caregiver, the caregiver is informed, by the court, of the option to become verified by a licensed child-placing agency and of the permanency care assistance program. This opportunity can make available additional resources to the caregiver and as a result, increase stability for children.

HB 3390 – Rep. Scott Sanford / Sen. Angela Paxton

HB 3390 ensures that adequate steps are taken to identify any potential caregiver for a child before that child is placed in foster care. The bill also expands the definition of a designated caregiver to include a person who had a longstanding and significant relationship with the family of the child and requires that the child and parent both be asked to share any relatives or potential caregivers.

TexProtects Goal – Improved Services to Foster Youth Aging Out of Care

HB 53 – Rep. Ina Minjarez / Sen. Beverly Powell

HB 53 will require DFPS to collaborate with the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner and the State Securities Board to develop an expanded financial literacy education program for foster youth. Experiential training will include filing taxes, using insurance, identity and credit theft, budgeting and civic engagement.

HB 123 – Rep. James White / Sen. Kirk Watson

HB 123 eases the burden of obtaining personal identification documents for foster children by waiving the fee, exempting the requirement for a parent signature and allowing the use of the DFPS regional office in lieu of a permanent address.

HB 1702 – Rep. Donna Howard / Sen. Kelly Hancock

HB 1702 requires institutions of higher education to make publicly available the contact information for their foster care liaison officer and information regarding support services available to students who were formerly in conservatorship. In addition, the name of any student who was formerly in conservatorship will be provided to the foster care liaison officer by their institution at the beginning of each semester.

TexProtects Goal – Cross-Sector Collaboration and Child Protection Systems

HB 72 – Rep. James White / Sen. Angela Paxton

HB 72 allows adopted children with chronic health conditions to continue to have access to the healthcare they would have had if they had remained in conservatorship if the adoptive parents opt-in. Foster children who transition into adoptive placement often experience gaps in medical care, and these gaps can have serious negative health consequences for children with severe disabilities.

HB 621 – Rep. Victoria Neave / Sen. Judith Zaffirini

HB 621 expands existing statutory protections against employer retaliation for a professional’s good faith reporting of child abuse or neglect by defining “adverse employment action” to mean any action that affected an employee’s compensation, promotion, transfer, work assignment, or performance evaluation, or any other employment action that would dissuade a reasonable employee from making or supporting a report of abuse or neglect.

HB 1709 – Rep. Mary González / Sen. José Menéndez

HB 1709 requires school districts to work closely with DFPS to notify when a surrogate parent has been appointed to a child with disabilities who is in conservatorship. Surrogate parents are appointed by school districts when children with disabilities who are under the managing conservatorship of DFPS do not have an available parent or foster parent who is willing or able to serve as the educational decision maker for the child. When a court-appointed surrogate parent is not properly performing their required duties, the district must consult with DFPS to review the appointment and, if appropriate, find a replacement. This bill expands the definitions of who can serve as a surrogate parent and helps ensure transparency and accountability in the system.

HB 1780 – Rep. Rick Miller / Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

HB 1780 requires the court to consider a parent’s good faith attempt to complete a drug rehab program when deciding whether to grant a 6-month extension before terminating parental rights. In light of the overwhelming majority of neglectful supervision cases that involve substance use and the complexity of treatment and recovery, this bill will give parents a chance to break the cycle of drug addiction and keep families together.

HB 2229 – Rep. Jarvis Johnson / Sen. Kirk Watson

HB 2229 adds specific information to a report the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) must submit to the Governor, Lt. Governor, and Legislature every even numbered year regarding foster children in the juvenile justice system. This bill requires the report to break down the number of foster children in TJJD custody by age, sex, race, conduct, and first-time offenders. This data will enable advocates and policymakers to better implement programs and practices that can prevent foster youth from entering the justice system.

HB 2737 – Rep. Gene Wu / Sen. Nathan Johnson

HB 2737 will require the Texas Supreme Court to provide annual guidance to judges who preside over juvenile or child protective services cases to establish greater uniformity across the state in how those cases are handled. The issues addressed could include the placement of children with severe mental health issues; changes in placement; final termination of parental rights; release of children detained in
juvenile detention facilities; certification of juveniles to stand trial as adults; and commitment of children to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

HB 3809 – Rep. Craig Goldman / Sen. Kirk Watson

HB 3809 will allow suits for personal injury to be brought up to 30 years after the day the cause of action accrued if the injury arose from conduct involving offenses against children including sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a young child, trafficking a child and causing the child to be involved in certain sex crimes, compelling prostitution of a child, and indecency with a child. Currently, the statute of limitations is 15 years. This bill allows more time for child victims to come to terms with their trauma enough to talk about it and bring a civil lawsuit.

Missed Opportunities for Improving Child Protection Systems

Rate Increases

Children who cannot remain safely at home with their parents are removed by CPS. CPS places children in foster care placements when a suitable kinship option is not available. Foster care services may be provided through placement with foster families or through emergency shelters, residential treatment centers, and other programs. Foster care providers are reimbursed by the state at a daily rate based on the type of care that is required to meet the needs of each child. In Texas, these rates do not fully cover the cost of providing foster care services, and providers must secure philanthropic donations that subsidize the rates in order to provide quality foster care. While lawmakers did make some investments in rate increases, in most cases these increases did not keep pace with inflation and actual purchasing power decreased. Insufficient rates contribute to continuing problems in building sufficient capacity to serve children in need.

Trauma-Informed Care

Children who are interacting with the Child Protection System experience trauma at higher rates than their peers and often in patterns that are complex and chronic. Although DFPS currently includes trauma-informed training in programs made available to DFPS employees as well as foster, adoptive, and kinship caregivers, the comprehensiveness and accessibilty of that training may not be sufficient to ensure staff and caregivers have the skills they need to recognize and address the ways that trauma may be affecting a child’s behavior. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to take action to ensure that the adults who are charged with decision making on behalf of traumatized children, have adequate training to understand the ways trauma can impact biology and behavior or strategies to increase resilience and healing.

Funding for Increased Quality in Foster Care

The Family First Prevention Services Act, which will go into effect in 2021, targets federal funding to evidencebased foster care prevention services and improved foster care that provides the best environment for each child’s unique needs. For children with therapeutic needs, Family First dollars are available for providers who have thirdparty assessment, access to medical staff, and follow-up after transition to assure successful placement. Many Texas providers are not currenly meeting the standards laid out by the bill. This session offered an opportuntiy to invest in programs and services that are being prioritized by Family First so that implementation will be efficient, federal dollars can be maximized, and children will have access to higher quality care.

How Did Prevention and Early Intervention Fare in the 86th Texas Legislature?


  • Four children die from abuse/neglect each week, and 80 percent of victims are 3 years of age and younger.
  • 181 children are confirmed as abused/neglected every day, and the highest rates occur in children under age 5.
  • Evidence-based home visiting programs can reduce child maltreatment by up to 48 percent and have a positive return for each dollar invested.
  • Currently, only 3.5% of families with the highest need have access to proven prevention programs.

Welcome to the second part of our look at how child protection legislation fared in the 86th Texas Legislature. We began this series in May with our top-priority bills. This begins the first of three deeper dives into specific subject areas. This post is about Prevention and Early Intervention legislation; it will be followed by Child Protection Systems and will conclude with Mental Health and Trauma.

For a PDF version of this blog post, click here.

Prevention and Early Intervention Background

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study – as well as decades of subsequent, validated research – has made clear that the impact of severe childhood adversities, including child maltreatment, is a public health crisis.

In the absence of supportive relationships and environments, chronic and compound ACEs increase the likelihood of negative behavioral, educational, health and economic outcomes. Prevention strategies can reduce the prevalence and impact of ACEs and increase a child’s opportunity for cognitive and emotional development, productivity, health, and economic wellbeing.

Prevention efforts fall across a spectrum that includes:

Primary prevention focuses on reaching families before the first occurrence of child maltreatment.
Secondary prevention focuses on efforts to prevent maltreatment among families considered to be at high risk.
Tertiary prevention focuses on mitigating the negative effects and prevent re-occurance in families where maltreatment has already occurred.

Evidence-based in-home parenting programs (known as home visiting) have proven to be the most effective and efficient model for prevention. These programs connect expectant and new parents who enroll voluntarily with a trained nurse, social worker, or early childhood specialist who promotes health, child development, parenting skills, education, and employment. By intervening to prevent adversity and build resilience during a child’s most critical years of neurodevelopment, in-home parenting programs impact outcomes across multiple domains and generations.

Evidence-based programs currently operating in Texas include AVANCE, Early Head Start, Family Connects, Healthy Families America, Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, Nurse-Family Partnership, Nurturing Parenting, Parents as Teachers, SafeCare, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, and Triple P- Positive Parenting Program.

While some communities have been able to initiate programs with private and/or local funds, most in-home parenting programs implemented in Texas are funded through the Prevention and Early Intervention Division at the Department of Family and Protective Services. In 2018, funding was available to provide approximately 16,000 families with evidence-based in-home parenting support; however, 423,000 families in Texas have young children and three or more risk factors. Our goal is to continue working until many more of those families can access these beneficial programs.

ACEs and trauma do not dictate the future of a child. Children with protective factors (e.g. healthy attachment to parents, access to community resources, and supportive school and home environments) can build the resilience needed to thrive despite adversity. Evidence-based and effective solutions can strengthen families and help ensure that children start with a secure foundation of health and safety.

prevention in the 86th texas legislature

Top-Priority Bills passed

House Bill 1 – The General Appropriations Act

Champions – Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. John Zerwas

In response to research, federal initiatives, and best practices, the landscape around prevention funding has changed within the past couple decades. The ACEs research makes clear the public health ramifications of severe adversities in childhood. Emerging brain science continues to demonstrate the importance of the development that happens in the first five years of a child’s life. This has created new urgency and a growing and diverse group of stakeholders who are invested in improving access to proven programs. The federal Family First Prevention Services Act demonstrates an increasing prioritization by the federal government in programs that provide evidence-based services to ensure that, when possible, children can remain safely at home. Protecting a child’s development by strengthening families to increase resilience and protective factors, and empowering communities to offer needed supports before a crisis occurs, have become the clear path forward.

Each session, TexProtects prioritizes increased investments in primary, evidence-based in-home parenting programs. Despite cuts to the Health and Human Services budget overall, the Legislature included funding to maintain Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support) and the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) Programs and appropriated an additional $4.3 million to expand those programs.

Evidence-Based Prevention2020-21 Base BudgetAdditional Investment
HOPES$39.9 million General Revenue/All Funds$1.5 million
NFP$30.2 million All Funds ($5.6 million General Revenue)$2.9 million
Total$70.1 million All Funds$4.3 million

Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) is a prevention approach developed to be a flexible and community-based solution to child abuse and neglect in high-risk counties by increasing protective factors of families served. It is currently serving families in 55 counties with children ages 0-5 at risk for child abuse and neglect. The evidence-based programs chosen by the communities each have proven positive outcomes across multiple domains and returns on investment that range from $1.26 to $8.08.

The Nurse-Family Partnership Program is an evidence-based, community health approach with over 40 years of evidence currently serving families in 43 counties. NFP works by having specially trained nurses regularly visit young, first-time expectant moms and fathers, starting early in the pregnancy, continuing through the child’s second birthday. For every dollar invested, there is a return on investment of $5.70 including savings on medical care, child welfare, special education, and criminal justice.

Senate Bill 355


SB 355 directs the Department of Family and Protective Services to develop a strategic plan to leverage federal funds made available through the Family First Prevention Services Act to increase access to mental health care, substance use treatment and in-home parenting programs that can prevent child maltreatment and keep children with their families. This will result in cost savings to the state and better outcomes for Texas children. For the first time, federal dollars previously only available for children in the foster care system will be made available to fund evidence-informed and community-based early interventions so that children can remain safely at home when possible rather than placing them in foster care. These prevention strategies address key drivers of child abuse and neglect: substance use, mental health issues, and parenting skills. Such services build on the knowledge that most children can be safely protected and remain within their own homes when parents are equipped with appropriate support and opportunities to care for their children.

SB 708

Champions – Sen. judith zaffirini and rep. john Raney

SB 708 requires the Health and Human Services Commission to use existing procedures to collect, make publicly available, and report to the Legislature data on child safety in licensed child-care centers. Data must include violations that impact the health, safety, and well-being of children as well as information on the number of children and caregivers in each classroom. This data will allow lawmakers, providers, and parents to make better decisions to ensure the safety of children in care.

TexProtects Goal – Provide training to promote prevention and early intervention

HB 111 – Rep. mary Gonzáles / sen. pat fallon

HB 111 requires that existing child abuse training for school staff must also include information on students with significant cognitive disabilities. Persons with disabilities are victimized at much higher rates than those without disabilities and are much less likely to report abuse.

HB 403 – rep. senfronia thompson / sen. joan huffman
HB 403 requires that the board of trustees and superintendent of a public school district complete one hour of training on identifying and reporting potential victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children every two years.
HB 2059 – Rep. Cesar Blanco / Sen. Larry Taylor
HB2059 equips health care practitioners who provide direct patient care with the training needed to help detect potential victims of human trafficking and provide them with adequate care, including referring them to additional support services. Ensuring that health care providers are knowledgeable and adequately prepared is vital in combating human trafficking in Texas. Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women, and health care providers are often the first professionals to have contact with trafficked women and girls.

TexProtects Goal – Improve Maternal and Newborn Healthcare

HB 25 – Rep. Mary Gonzáles / Sen. Judith Zaffirini

HB25 creates a pilot program to allow pregnant and postpartum women utilizing the Medicaid medical transportation program to travel with their children to pregnancy-related appointments. Women enrolled in the STAR Medicaid managed care program during pregnancy or after delivery often miss prenatal or postpartum appointments because the medical transportation service program does not provide an option for women to bring their children along with them to appointments. This pilot could increase access to health care during this critical time for mom and baby.

HB 253 – Rep. Jessica Farrar / Sen. Lois Kolkhorst
HB253 requires the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop and implement a recurring five-year strategic plan to improve access to postpartum depression screening, referral, treatment, and support services. Postpartum depression (PPD) affects 1 in 9 mothers nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control. PPD can affect a mother’s capacity to attach and interact with her child. This can disrupt healthy development and family functioning. Depression is treatable and most mothers improve with access to adequate support.
HB 405 – Rep. Ina Minjarez / Sen. Lois Kolkhorst
HB405 designates June as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) Awareness Month.Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a group of conditions caused when babies withdraw from certain drugs that they have been exposed to before birth. Rates of NAS in Texas increased by more than half between 2010 and 2015. This bill would increase public awareness and access to information and resources to decrease stigma and encourage mothers to seek help.
HB 1576 – Rep. Dade Phelan / Sen. Dawn Buckingham
HB1576 allows the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and Medicaid managed care organizations to contract with transportation network companies (TNCs) and transportation vendors such as Uber and Lyft for the delivery of nonemergency medical transportation. The medical transportation program currently provides non-emergency transportation services to and from covered health care services — based on medical necessity — to recipients under Medicaid, the children with special health care needs program, and indigent cancer patients program who have no other means of transportation. This would increase options and flexibility and decrease the use of emergency medical transportation resources for non-emergency transport.
HB 1651 – REP. MARY GONZÁLES / Sen. Carol Alvarado
HB1651 requires the Commission on Jail Standards to prohibit the use of restraints for women who are incarcerated during pregnancy and 12 weeks postpartum unless clearly required for the health and safety of the mother or staff. Shackling pregnant inmates is banned in Texas state prisons and was recently outlawed at the federal level. This bill extends the same protection to the inmates of our state’s county jails. The bill also requires an annual report on any use of restraints on pregnant and post-partum women.
SB 436 – Sen. Jane Nelson / Rep. Four Price

SB436 requires the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to collaborate with the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force to develop and implement initiatives to improve screening and continuity of care for women with opioid use disorder, as well as newborns with neonatal abstinence syndrome, while increasing access to medication-assisted treatment and decreasing the number of opioids prescribed before, during, and following delivery. A report on these initiatives is due to the legislature by December 2020.

SB 748 – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst / Rep. Sarah Davis
SB748 would create a general revenue dedicated account to fund newborn screenings conducted by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The public health laboratory at DSHS tests 400,000 infants per year for 53 disorders or medical conditions. Dedicated funds could be used to maintain the lab and add additional screenings to the panel to meet federal requirements.
SB 750 – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst / Rep. Eddie Lucio III
SB 750 seeks to maximize Texas’ efforts to address maternal mortality as detailed by the Health and Human Services Commission’s report, State Efforts to Address Materna Mortality and Morbidity in Texas, by improving access to healthcare during the prenatal and postpartum period for women enrolled in the Healthy Texas Women Program. This bill also renames the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Task Force as the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee and extends its work until 2027.

TexProtects Goal – Increase Access to High-Quality Early Care and Education

HB 3 – Rep. Dan Huberty / Sen. larry Taylor
HB 3 creates an early education allotment to fund full-day Pre-k for eligible students, provides additional funding for districts with high concentrations of poverty, increases funding per student, and provides funding for extended summer instruction.
HB 680 – Rep. Joe Deshotel / Sen. Kirk Watson
HB 680 requires the Texas Workforce Commission to assess and report the information on the quality and types of childcare being used by families receiving childcare subsidies. This information will include the average cost of childcare and the total number of providers and children participating in the state’s quality rating system, Texas Rising Star. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) administers a federal program that provides childcare subsidies to low-income families so their parents can work or attend workforce training. The data collected can help decision makers better improve access to high quality care.
SB 1679 – Sen. Royce West / Rep. John Turner
SB 1679 authorizes children at the age of three who were eligible for enrollment in a free Pre-k class to remain eligible for enrollment for the following school year. This will eliminate confusion and the burden on families that can result in children not being enrolled.

TexProtects Goal – Increase Safety for Children in Childcare

SB 568 – Sen. Joan Huffman / Rep. Greg Bonnen
SB568 transfers certain regulatory authority over childcare facilities and family homes from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The bill creates a safety training account of dedicated funds, requires liability insurance unless it is cost-prohibitive, and establishes safe sleeping standards. A family home is a caregiver who provides regular care in their own residence for six or fewer children who are younger than 14, excluding children who are related to the caretakers.
SB 569 – Sen. Joan Huffman / Rep. Greg Bonnen
SB569 transfers regulatory authority for listed family homes from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The bill requires HHSC to adopt minimum standards for listed family homes, requires liability insurance unless it is cost-prohibitive, and requires certain training like safe sleep training. The bill requires the HHSC to inspect listed family homes whenever the commission receives a complaint. Listed family homes are adult caregivers that provide care in their own home for compensation for up to three children unrelated to the caregiver.
SB 706 – Sen. Kirk Watson / Rep. Bobby Guerra
SB706 requires there be an investigative unit within the childcare licensing division at the Health and Human Services Commission to identify childcare facilities operating without a license, certification, registration, or listing and initiate appropriate enforcement actions against those facilities.

Missed opportunities for prevention and early intervention

Cross Sector Collaboration to Prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and others has made clear that ACEs are prevalent and can have lifelong consequences on health and behavior. Currently, prevention efforts in Texas are spread across multiple agencies. Communities do not have access to the informaiton and resources they need to make strategic decisions toward safer and healthier families. HB 4183 would have facilitated a cross-agency strategic planning process to better coordinate statewide data and initiatives and give communities a better toolkit for providing services that can strengthen families and prevent trauma. The bill passed in the House but not in the Senate.

Strengthen ECI

Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) is a statewide program within the Texas Health and Human Services Commission for families with children from birth up to age 3 who have developmental delays, disabilities, or certain medical diagnoses that may impact development. ECI services recipients can access needed therapies and be school-ready. The agency made a $72 million request for the funds needed to keep ECI sustainable; however, the budget appropriated only $31 million. HB 12 would have strengthened the ECI program by addressing prior authorizations, requiring health benefit plans to cover services, and creating a tele-health pilot and  ombudsman office. The bill passed the House but did not move in the Senate.

Extend Medicaid Coverage for Women Postpartum

Texas has the nation’s worst uninsured rate for kids AND the nation’s worst uninsured rate for women of childbearing age — with often devastating consequences for moms and babies. Extending Medicaid coverage for women postpartum up to 12 months post-child birth would have addressed the first recommendation from the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Taskforce; however, the issue faced significant challenges prior to House passage and was not referred to committee in the Senate.

Strategically Expand Proven Prevention Programs

While we are relieved to see continued investment in evidence-based child abuse prevention programs, we still have a long way to go. HB 1549 in the 85th legislative session directed the department to develop a plan to take these programs to scale in order to impact statewide outcomes. Current investments are only providing services to 3.5% of those families in highest need. In order to move the needle, Texas needs to make strategic investments that outpace population growth and inflation and can move us toward a reality in which at least 30% of families in need have access to services.

TexProtects applauds passage of SB 355 (re Family First Prevention Services Act)

May 22, 2019
Contact: Lee Nichols

Austin, Texas — Earlier today, the Texas House passed Senate Bill 355 by Sen. Royce West (sponsored in the House by Rep. Stephanie Klick). This bill directs the Department of Family and Protective Services to develop a strategic plan for the coordinated implementation of community-based care and foster care prevention services that meet the requirements of the federal Family First Prevention Services Act.

TexProtects (the Texas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America) applauds the passage of this bill by both chambers, resulting in SB 355 being sent to Governor Greg Abbott to be signed into law. Statement from TexProtects Vice President of Public Affairs Pamela McPeters:

We applaud the House for swiftly passing this key piece of legislation and sending it to the governor. The Family First Prevention Services Act marked a major shift in federal spending priorities, allowing money that previously was reserved solely for foster care to now be invested in crucial prevention programs that keep children from ever being removed from their families in the first place – safely protected in their homes. Senate Bill 355 will allow the state to develop a Texas strategy to leverage and maximize these funds for services that empower families to be resilient and self-reliant. FFPSA is a landmark recognition that we must support families before tragedy can occur, not just after it happens.

TexProtects report, lawmakers call for statewide strategy on Adverse Childhood Experiences

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

ACEs Uncovered: Powerful preventative strategies to promote resilience and brain health for a better Texas tomorrow may be accessed any time at


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