A breakdown of the benefits of Family Connects across Texas.
A breakdown of how Health Services Initiatives provides federal funds to impact maternal and child health outcomes.
The time around birth—whether it’s your first or fifth, you’re adopting or fostering a baby, you’ve just given a baby up for adoption, or you’ve lost your baby—is an immensely vulnerable time for all families. Parenting, however it looks for you, doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But what if it came with a study buddy? Someone who could check in on you, answer your questions, point you in the right direction, and share this moment with you?
This is Family Connects, a short-term evidence-based program in which registered nurses visit families in the first few weeks after a birth, adoption or foster care placement of a newborn, or pregnancy loss, to check in and see how families are adjusting, and connect families to community resources they need. Family Connects comes at no cost to the family and is available to all —it sets the expectation for how a community cares for its families, regardless of their personal circumstances. It is also short-term—Family Connects aims to connect families to the right services for them at the right time, rather than duplicate or replace those services. Most families only need one visit, but nurses can provide up to three visits, if necessary. All families receive a follow-up call one month after their last visit to confirm that they have connected with their referrals and had their needs met or are receiving services.
During the home visit, a Family Connects nurse assesses the family to identify their needs. Overwhelmingly, families do need information and resources: Family Connects has found that 95% of families have at least one nurse-identified risk or need. Some parents may need help finding a pediatrician, managing postpartum depression or anxiety, or getting connected to housing or food resources. Others may need referrals to programs and services for family members or a link to support groups for parents in similar situations.
Nurses are not case managers and Family Connects does not duplicate existing services. Based on the individual family’s needs, the nurse uses a searchable database to identify a community resource or service provider, such as a diaper bank, home visiting program, or early childhood intervention, that addresses the family’s need, makes a warm handoff to a local service provider, and follows up with the family to close the loop and make sure the family was connected to the resource or service. In so doing, Family Connects strengthens the web of community resources and referrals. The data collected by Family Connects helps inform community leaders and stakeholders of emerging trends, gaps in resources, and successful connections, which can be used to make decisions about community priorities and resource allocation.
Much like Family Connects brings the community together around families, the program itself is strengthened by the partners who make it up. As TexProtects began looking for partners to support the program in Dallas, we learned that MHMR of Tarrant County and the Early Learning Alliance were also looking at bringing the program to Fort Worth.
At this moment, we realized two critical things:
- Our programs may start and end at Highway 360, but our families don’t. North Texas is one community made up of not only Dallas and Fort Worth, but also Arlington, Plano, Cleburne, Forney, Frisco, Mansfield, and other cities and towns. We need to be forward thinking about how we can structure our programs to meet families where they are and how they live, rather than to easily fit our administrative structures.
- We are stronger when we work together. It didn’t make sense to have two separate Family Connects programs in North Texas when we could go through the process together, learn from one another, leverage each other’s strengths, and build one infrastructure that could support both counties and the region as a whole.
Since May of 2019, our Family Connects North Texas team has set itself up to provide one North Texas structure with two parallel branches—east (Dallas) and west (Tarrant). Based on a community needs assessment of North Texas, implementation began first in Arlington and Cleburne (west) in November 2019. During COVID-19, Family Connects has transitioned to providing virtual services. Isolated from their families, friends, and traditional support networks, parents are more eager than ever to receive these virtual connections.
As we all navigate this period of reopening our state and rebuilding our economy, we know there are so many competing needs, but our families must come first. We believe Family Connects can play an important role by helping new families get connected to the resources and services they need, so that parents and their newborns can get off to a strong start. As parents quickly find out, none of us can do it alone and we can all benefit from connections. Similarly, our organizations can’t do this alone. As we continue with our planning in the east (Dallas), we are grateful for the many partners who are working with us on funding and implementation planning to make a Dallas Family Connects pilot a reality.
This Child Abuse Prevention Month, TexProtects worked to increase awareness and provide families with ideas and resources.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a special observance to highlight the current initiatives improving the child welfare system. Protecting children is an everyday mission for TexProtects and our partners.
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services DataBook, in 2019:
- There were 294,739 total reports of child abuse, 23% of which were victims of child maltreatment and 14% of which were confirmed investigations
- Of the confirmed allegations of abuse and neglect, 55.5% of victims were ages 0-5, 27.1% were ages 6-11, and 17.3% were ages 12-17
- 72.7% of all confirmed child maltreatment victims were due to neglectful supervision
- 235 children died of abuse and neglect, an 11% increase from 2018
- 18,615 children were removed from their families due to child maltreatment
The prevention of child abuse and neglect is especially important due to the challenges that COVID-19 has created. Evidence shows that numerous risk factors, including social isolation, financial instability, and other stressors have high potential to increase risk for abuse and neglect. With the impact of this pandemic, a primary concern is that although reports of abuse may decline, incidents of child maltreatment may be increasing. Educators and medical professionals make up the majority of reporters for suspected child abuse. But with stay-at-home orders leaving fewer eyes on kids, how can we, as communities, help prevent child maltreatment in the midst of this crisis?
TexProtects has proactively created a variety of tools to promote positive family and community engagement. These include:
- Our Get Help guide which shares helplines for support and basic needs resources for youth and families;
- A Survival Kit where you can donate to a family in need;
- The Family Guide to Thrive with resources for tips on parenting, support for fathers, at-home learning toolkits, and coping with COVID-19;
- Our handout on 10 parenting strategies during COVID-19; and
- Daily tips on Facebook with resources to empower families to move, make, meet, and practice mindfulness to help build connections and care for each other and ourselves during these difficult times.
In addition, through op-eds and statements to the press, we are working to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect prevention strategies. We are also working to provide families and communities with actionable ideas and resources to better support families and ensure children are safe, nurtured, and resilient.
Child Abuse Prevention Month carries a more meaningful purpose during this April, but the solutions remain unchanged. We must ensure that families are plugged into the network of support in their communities because no family can do it all alone. And by supporting families, we can better ensure that every child has a nurturing, responsive caregiver on which to depend. In big and small ways, each one of us has a unique opportunity to be part of this solution especially in times of social isolation. Check on a neighbor, help connect families in need to resources, offer support to the parents in your own life, and of, course, if you suspect child abuse or neglect, make a report.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, you can call the Texas Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or report online at txabusehotline.org.
A handy guide for parents and families to thrive during the current health crisis
Parenting is HARD work, and it’s work that can be even more difficult when we are facing stress and adversity. However, we know that there is nothing more important than the parent/child relationship in terms of future learning, behavior, and health. As the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19 continue to unfold, TexProtects wants you all to know we are in this together, Texas! We too are moms, dads and have families – whether we are tending to kiddos out of school and needing guidance, searching for jobs, or finding ways to destress and reduce anxiety, we have put together a Family Survival Kit with some great tips, tools and resources that can help you and your family better weather the storm during these trying times – a parents’ survival guide to ensure your family can thrive.
There are actions each one of us can take to reduce the stress and burden on ourselves and parents we know during this time. Offer to provide childcare so parents and caregivers are not in difficult situations and potentially leaving children unsupervised or in neglectful environments. Deliver a meal. Take a break or ask your spouse or partner to step in and help. Check in on your neighbor to ensure they have what they need, and most of all, remember, there is no way to be a perfect parent but millions of ways to be a good one–so give yourself and your children an extra dose of compassion and care during these challenging days.
General Parenting Support
Help And Hope offers parenting tips (by age and topic), a parent resource library, family activity ideas, videos, and connections to programs in your county. They remind us that focusing on your child for just 15 minutes a day can make a big difference!
Sign up for Bright by Text for free games, tips, and resources sent right to your cell phone. Messages are targeted to your child’s age (ages 0 through 8) and include information on child development, language and early literacy, health and safety, behavioral tips, games, and more! It’s free and available in English or Spanish.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a parent resource with tips to help families work and learn during the health crisis. Healthy Children breaks the resources out by prenatal, baby, toddler, preschool, gradeschool, teen, and young adult.
The Centers for Disease Control offers free tools and additional resources to help you understand and track your child’s developmental milestones. They remind us that talking is teaching!! Reading, singing, and talking to your child is easy and dramatically increases their language and social development. If your child has not had a developmental screening, you can complete one online for free here.
Support for Fathers
Having an involved father with positive parenting experience can be an important part of a child’s development. The National Center for Fathering has general information on fathering as well as resources on fathering during the COVID-19 health crisis, like how social distancing can mean more father involvement.
The National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse also has tips, hints, and programs about fatherhood for you to peruse, including their dadtalk blog and library of resources related to research and issues impacting responsible fatherhood.
Families Learning Together
Babies are born ready to learn, and they love to learn with their parents. The time you spend together helps their brain grow strong and creates a safe attachment that will encourage them to explore the world and thrive. While every day is rich with opportunities to engage and learn together, the increased time at home and out of school resulting from the COVID-19 may mean that you are looking for new ways to keep your child (and yourself) active and learning. The resources below will provide you numerous ways to take advantage of this time together and have some fun.
KERA Education out of Dallas has put together an At-Home Education Toolkit to help parents and caregivers with kids and teens PreK-12 who are at home, as well as educators who are teaching children remotely. There are more than 60,000 videos, lesson plans, games, activities and other resources in all subject areas–most are aligned to the TEKS and TX PK Guidelines.
Zero to Three offers a library of activities for playing and learning with your child based on their age.
The Kennedy Center offers short tutorials on fun ways to learn together with your child. Take a creative lunch break and draw with your child with the guidance of a fabulous teacher.
Check out a printable list from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network that offers simple activities for your family. Most do not require a screen or any supplies but all of them can create opportunities to make good memories during this difficult time.
Coping with COVID-19
Information and details regarding COVID-19 are changing rapidly. Staying informed about the outbreak and learning how to be prepared can reduce your stress. In addition, managing your own anxiety and emotions is critical to ensuring that your child can cope with their own feelings and worries during this time of uncertainty.
For the latest updates on the COIVD-19 outbreak, visit the CDC site. Included on the site is information to help prepare as a family as well as tips for self-care. While everyone experiences stress differently, the unprecedented challenges resulting from this pandemic will likely create new anxiety for all of us. Remember to take care of your body, take breaks when you feel stressed, stay informed (but limit news exposure), stay connected, and get help if needed.
This resource from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (PDF; en español) will help you think about how an infectious disease outbreak might affect your family—both physically and emotionally—and what you can do to help your family cope. You can support your child by encouraging their questions, keeping them informed, maintaining routines when possible, and make time for fun and meaningful activities that can help everyone connect and relax.
Prevent Child Abuse America has assembled a great list of activities and resources to help parents and children. They remind us to stay connected and offer ideas for connecting to family, friends, our culture, and ourselves even when we have to be physically apart.
Talking About COVID-19 With Your Children
With news and conversations about COVID-19 everywhere, it’s important to talk to children about what they are seeing and hearing in a way that is developmentally appropriate and reassuring. Children worry more when they are kept in the dark. The resources below can help if you are wondering how to start.
The Child Mind Institute’s article Talking to Your Children about the Coronavirus has a great short video from Dr. Jamie Howard, Director of Trauma and Resilience Services, who goes over quick tips on how to discuss the pandemic with your kids. The most important thing? Be developmentally appropriate.
Last but not least, other organizations also have tips for families to talk with children about the current health crisis. Check out these tips from Zero To Three, and videos, games and activities from PBS Kids and BrainPOP.
What resources did we miss?
Let us know in the comments what has been helping you and your family to stay safe and connected. What has helped your family have fun and learn during this health crisis? How are you and your loved ones growing your resilience together? We want to hear from you!
*Find more resources from TexProtects here.
This op-ed was published in the Houston Chronicle, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Longview News-Journal and Alice Echo News-Journal.
By Sophie Phillips, TexProtects CEO
Yet again, more mass shootings have our nation desperately searching for answers to difficult questions. How could they have been prevented? Some question whether prevention is within our reach.
This question sparks debate around issues such as the proliferation of guns in America, hateful political ideologies, violence in video games and movies, and mental health issues (further stigmatizing it), among many others.
Negative rhetoric is the matchstick sparking the combustion of destruction and prevents us from finding true solutions, including one I believe we have not brought into the fold: evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs in childhood that support families and build resiliency in children.
Science tells us there are commonalities behind the violent acts devastating our country beyond those currently debated.
In an August 4 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densley of The Violence Project studied every mass shooter in the past 53 years and identified four commonalities, the first of which caught my eye.
Peterson and Densley wrote, “the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.”
Certainly, neither I nor Peterson and Densley suggest that children who experience severe trauma are destined to become mass shooters or otherwise engage in violent behavior.
However, exposure to multiple, prolonged, severe, and compounded events – including child abuse and neglect, living in a household with intimate partner violence, parental substance abuse, untreated mental health concerns, loss of a parent, bullying and more – have been identified in research as precursors to serious social, mental, and physical health problems later in life such as depression, suicide, substance abuse, and others if left untreated or without effective coping mechanisms.
One might be surprised at the large percentage of children that experience trauma. National research firm Child Trends analyzed data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and found that while 49% of Texas children have experienced at least one early adversity, 12% (nearly 900,000) experienced three or more, excluding child abuse (but including being a victim of violence), making the likely impact much more severe.
The solutions aren’t necessarily difficult. Research has shown just one loving adult in a child’s life can buffer trauma’s impact.
Additionally, programs and interventions exist that work with families to not only prevent traumas but also mitigate the effects. These include voluntary home visiting programs, high quality childcare, parenting training and support, access to quality healthcare, treatment of mental health and substance abuse concerns, and domestic violence prevention.
Let me be clear: this is not about labeling children or flagging potential shooters because of early trauma or mental health concerns.
Rather, it’s an effort to invest in our most precious generation, when children’s brains experience the most development. Every child deserves to be strong, safe and secure. By investing in prevention, we create a foundation in which children are resilient and have supports in place to build healthy lives.
The organization I lead – TexProtects, the Texas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America – worked hard in the most recent Legislative Session educating lawmakers on the detrimental effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Along with other advocacy partners, we pushed for development of a statewide strategy to prevent and mitigate ACEs impacts by building resiliency in kids. Unfortunately, despite strong House support, the legislation died in the Senate in the final days of session.
I don’t know what the perfect solution is to preventing violence in our nation – there probably isn’t one, as any individual violent event can be pinned to multiple causes. However, I do know that the earlier we intervene the better, and prevention of early childhood trauma and treatment later in life should be two of many strategies.
Prevention is absolutely within our means to address and childhood is the earliest point possible.
Sophie Phillips is CEO of TexProtects. TexProtects’ study of Adverse Childhood Experiences is at bit.ly/acesuncovered.