How To Address Loneliness In Our Youth During COVID-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insight into DFPS priorities for 2022-2023

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

Looking Back 

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

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

Looking Ahead 

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for our analysis coming on this page soon!

What One Grandparent Wants You to Know About Supporting Kinship Caregivers

Mercedes Bristol is a grandparent raising five grandchildren after their involvement with Child Protective Services (CPS). She also advocates for the needs and rights of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Mercedes is what is known as a kinship caregiver.

According to the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), 276,800 children in Texas reside with an adult, like Mercedes, who is not their parent. This includes, but is not limited to, both informal (i.e. placement without CPS legal intervention) and formal (i.e. placement for children in state custody or a licensed kinship family home) kinship placements. For children in the state’s custody, more than 40% of children are placed in a kinship home across most regions.

Mercedes has been actively involved with kinship caregiver support groups in the San Antonio area and co-leads a group quarterly meeting alongside DFPS. Mercedes additionally lends her personal experience and expertise to the policy-making process by working closely with CPS to provide input and review policies, and she encourages other grandparents to get involved as well.

Kinship caregivers have unique needs and often do not know what services are available to them and the children in their care. Many kinship caregivers face financial challenges but do not receive the same kind of financial compensation as foster parents unless they decide to become licensed. However, that is only an option for children who are in the state’s custody.

But what about families who step up when CPS isn’t legally involved? There are even fewer supports, and it can be difficult to learn how to navigate multiple systems to obtain the services they need. They may not have anyone to help guide them. Regardless of the steep road of challenges, kinship caregivers rise to the occasion.

We spoke with Mercedes about her own experience, the opportunities for Texas to better support kinship caregivers, and the supports she can offer.

TexProtects: What has been the most rewarding thing about being a caregiver to your grandchildren?

Mercedes Bristol: When they all go to bed at night after saying our prayers and see that they are safe.

TP: You already got involved in a significant way by stepping up to meet the needs of your family. What made you want to take a step further and get more involved in community and policy work?

MB: One day I was struggling with the step I had taken. Then someone told me to not just let life happen to my grandchildren and me but to be proactive instead! I knew I was not the only one raising my grandchildren, and I decided to be a support to them. From there, I joined a support group called Abuelos y Nietos Juntos in 2012 run by Dr. Santos and received much needed support from this group. Knowing there were other grandparents like myself, I asked if we could start other groups and Dr. Santos helped me start one. We are now 12 support groups and growing. Besides the support groups, we thought that we needed to make people aware of grandparents’ needs, so we contacted state representatives and senators and Judge Peter Sakai in San Antonio. That is where the advocacy part started.

TP: What are the needs you hear about the most in the support groups you helped establish?

MB: Most of the support we give is around the CPS system because grandparents need information on how to navigate the CPS system. We hear about legal issues when a parent just drops off the children and leave without proper paperwork for the grandparent to provide educational, medical, or financial assistance for the children.

TP: With the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) implementation right around the corner, what opportunities do you see for Texas to take advantage of this legislation to meet those needs? [For more information on FFPSA and how it can be used to support kinship caregivers, see our report: Family First Prevention Services Act: A Shift in the Right Direction for Families.]

MB: The opportunity to draw from those federal funds would allow us to help children that have not entered the state’s custody who are placed with a grandparent or kinship caregiver. Those funds would immediately equip them by providing the necessary things so that the children enter a secure home that kinship caregivers will and can provide for them.

TP: How do you hope to see a kinship navigator program implemented in Texas?

MB: In practice, I want kinship caregivers to be able to call whichever agency is assigned as the kinship navigator, do an intake form, and then be assigned to a caseworker that can assess their needs. I want that same agency to have the ability to provide all the things that the family needs. For instance, many families need legal assistance and to be able to obtain vital statistics. They need to be counseled on the options they have. Families also need emotional support. They often need financial assistance or help paying for utilities or rent, so they need help applying for benefits. I have seen that families need access to clothing closets and food pantries. They need help with mental health assessments for the children in their care who have experienced trauma or need help meeting the needs of children with disabilities. Families need someone to help them with the necessary referrals to have these assessments done. They also need help with school enrollments. Any sort of kinship navigator program needs to connect them to those supports, not just give them a referral.

TP: For those in our audience that may be looking at how to get connected, can you tell our audience what your support groups look like and the benefits you have seen for kinship caregivers who attend? Also, how can kinship caregivers get connected to these?

MB: We invite a community resource to come and speak to the group and have some coffee and snacks. We introduce ourselves if there are new grandparents raising grandchildren. Then we allow them to tell why they are there, and the group takes different forms. I am there to facilitate the conversations. Sometimes there is crying and awareness that they are not alone and that there is hope to find help in their situation. We have a website and a Facebook page that will give them access to the support groups or other resources. I also co-facilitate a quarterly support group with DFPS that is offered to kinship caregivers that are in the CPS system. 

How Will Texas Implement FFPSA?

Texas has moved one step closer to creating a state plan that leverages federal funding to prioritize prevention and family preservation.

In February 2018, Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) which makes available a federal match for state investments in evidence-based and trauma informed supports to families at risk BEFORE a removal occurs. These services address the core drivers of child abuse and neglect including substance use, mental health, and parenting challenges. However, in order to successfully leverage this opportunity, state leaders have a number of crucial decisions to make.

Last legislative session, TexProtects championed Senate Bill 355 authored by Senator West which required the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop a strategic plan outlining how they intend to implement the provisions of FFPSA. That plan was released earlier this week.

DFPS’ strategic plan highlights the alignments between the goals of the Department and the goals of FFPSA and offers information and implementation options to support the budgetary decisions in the 87th legislative session that will largely determine the scope of FFPSA’s transformational potential. We applaud the prioritization of prevention and support of kinship caregivers in the state’s plan; however, the plan leaves many critical questions unanswered and may not do enough to target populations at risk of entering foster care.

For a quick overview of the top three items of good news in the plan and the top three areas of concern – see below.

First the good news:

  1. DFPS was awarded $50.3 million in Family First Transition Act funds to help implement the provisions of FFPSA and they intend to utilize $33.9 million of those dollars on prevention. They will be spending the rest of the funds on a Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) pilot and on IT changes.
  2. DFPS is investing in efforts to better serve informal kinship placements who don’t have as many supports. To ensure caregivers in informal kinship placements know what is available and can be better linked to services, DFPS has issued grants to four providers to complete needs assessments, evaluations, and pilots to support the development of a kinship navigator program. DFPS has also invested in training for 2-1-1 staff on the needs of kinship caregivers they plan to create a marketing campaign designed to ensure kinship caregivers are aware of the resources available to them through 2-1-1.
  3. The DFPS plan includes seven options for expanding prevention services, each with varying degrees of complexity and cost. Approximately half of these options capitalize on and expand the innovative and effective community networks that have been built through the Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division of DFPS. This is a smart solution that will enable Texas to quickly build on existing infrastructure to better support families.

Areas of concern within the DFPS plan include the following:

  1. The state stands to lose $26 million in Title IV-E eligible dollars per year unless there are increased placements available in family-like settings or a QRTP. This will need to be accounted for somewhere in the budget but must not be taken from children and families who are already receiving effective prevention services.
  2. 43% of families who have had an open Family Based Safety Services (FBSS) case have another case of child maltreatment within five years of completing services. DFPS’ definition of who is eligible for prevention services includes families participating in FBSS. While the children and families served by this stage of service naturally and most closely fit the broad federal eligibility criteria of children who are at imminent risk of entering foster care, DFPS acknowledged in this plan that many of the provided services are not evidence-based and do not meet the FFPSA standards. To use this funding as intended will require a significant shift in mentality and accountability for the quality and outcomes of services offered to families in FBSS.
  3. DFPS can define who is eligible for prevention services; however, their suggested definition only captures families who are already engaging with the system. Their definition includes families with an open FBSS case, children who have already been in care but are now are at risk of placement disruption or re-entry, and pregnant and parenting youth in Child Protective Services (CPS) custody. There is room for improvement here to consider other populations at risk as well as more upstream options that support families BEFORE they have an open case and CPS involvement.

Now, it is up to lawmakers to decide the best way to move forward, and the potential impact on children and families will largely be decided on their willingness to prioritize prevention and family preservation. Be on the lookout for the release of our FFPSA Brief that will outline this federal legislation and the Texas plan in more detail later this month.

Post-Partum Depression and Early Childhood Development

The bond between a mother and child is special. Because that connection is so profound, wellbeing for an infant is largely determined by the physical and mental health of their mother. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), Post-Partum Depression (PPD) is one of the most common threats to maternal mental health, affecting approximately 600,000 women a year. It is estimated that 14% to 23% of mothers will experience depression at some point during pregnancy and 5%-25% experience PPD. All women who give birth are potentially at risk. Despite that fact, many mothers with PPD struggle with guilt or shame. While PPD is highly treatable, fear of being labeled a bad mother can make it hard for women to discuss the issue or reach out for the help they need.

Symptoms of PPD include feelings of anger, crying more often than usual, withdrawing from loved ones, feeling distant from the baby, worrying or feeling overtly anxious, thinking about hurting yourself or the baby, and doubting one’s ability to care for the baby. These feelings of being unable to connect to the baby can be particularly unsettling for new mothers and particularly disruptive to the attachment and responsiveness which underlies health child development. Because the first three years of life are so foundational, untreated PPD can have lifelong consequences for children.

Simple acts of care such as hugs, smiles, and lullabies create new brain pathways for infants which develop their capacity to form memories, relationships, and logic. Post-partum depression can weaken the mother-child bond, stunting cognitive and linguistic development. A number of other negative outcomes have been linked to PPD, such as higher rates of behavioral problems and lower grades. If essential neural pathways are not formed during early childhood, they may never develop. This means that treatment is especially time sensitive; early treatment allows moms to fully bond with their children as soon as possible and to optimize their child’s early developmental period. TexProtects advocates for improving post-partum mental health and other issues which impact a child’s crucial development period through our Prenatal to Three Policy Agenda.

Destigmatizing PPD and supporting mothers with mental healthcare will help ensure every child in Texas has a strong start. Last legislative session, HB 253 mandated the creation of a five-year strategic plan to raise public awareness around PPD and to improve access to mental health screening, referral, treatment, and support services. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) recently released their initial draft of the Post-Partum Depression Strategic Plan for public comment. TexProtects submitted comments on that draft plan that included the following key recommendations:

  1. Texas should continue strong investments in programs overseen by the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) Division – such as Texas Home Visiting, Project HOPES, Project HIP, and Texas Nurse-Family Partnership – to reach more families. These voluntary programs are proven to improve maternal and infant health, strengthen referrals and connections, and promote positive parenting.
  2. Texas should increase investments in Texas Family Connects, a short-term evidence-based nurse home visiting program that links nurses to moms with newborns. To encourage scale-up into more Texas regions, Texas should explore additional financing strategies, including Medicaid coverage for maternal mental health screenings, case management, and nurse visits delivered through Family Connects.
  3. Texas should expand Help Me Grow, a referral line and centralized access point that helps parents with young kids to get connected to community-based resources. Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Title V has recently become a statewide hub for Help Me Grow, a national model that works to create a “Centralized Access Point” for parents with young children. Included in this work is strategic integration with statewide 2-1-1 so that families have both an effective “front door” when looking to access services and a warm handoff to regional hubs where parent navigation can ensure families get access to the right program and supports at the right time.

Increasing healthy beginnings and supporting young families are critical components of our Prenatal to Three Policy Agenda. Learn more about our work to ensure infants and toddlers (and their families) have what they need to be safe and well and maximize the potential of the early years of development.

TexProtects Stands Up | Disproportionality in Maternal and Child Health Care

TexProtects’ vision is one where every child is safe, nurtured, and resilient — no matter the color of their skin. This vision cannot be realized while families of color continue to be wounded by systemic racism and injustice. As part of our effort to speak out and stand up against injustice, this blog is part of a series to highlight existing inequalities in our child protection systems. A deepened understanding of these issues can help us know better and do better so that Texas is a safe place to be born – where families can thrive and where every individual is seen and valued equally.

TexProtects takes a comprehensive approach to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and recognizes the Center for Disease Control’s Essential for Childhood framework which includes the following strategies: strengthening economic supports for families, changing social norms to support parents and positive parenting practices, providing quality care and education early in life, enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development and intervening to lessen harm and prevent future risk and occurrence.

As our communities have been challenged by COVID-19, Texas families of all kinds have had to find enormous strength and resilience. This moment is an opportunity to reflect upon how our own wellbeing is related to the health of everyone in our community.

Evidence shows that children and mothers of color have long faced stark health disparities, which now may be worsened by the effects of COVID-19. Black and Native American babies have a much higher risk of birth complications, low birthweight, and death within their first year of life in comparison to white babies. Black mothers face even more pronounced health disparities: maternal mortality among Black mothers is more than three times higher than among their white peers. These disparities are driven in part by the fact that families of color often have less access to healthcare. According to Zero to Three’s 2020 State of Babies, 7.7% of Latinx/Hispanic women and 9.9% of Black women in the United States receive late or no prenatal care whatsoever compared to 4.5% of white women. In Texas, these disparities are particularly pronounced: 15.1% of Black women and 10.5% of Latinx/Hispanic women receive insufficient prenatal care compared to 6.3% of white women.

Racial discrimination is a distinct factor that drives both low healthcare access and poor health outcomes for families of color. Researchers from Zero to Three affirm that racism accounts for huge differences which cannot be explained by other contributing factors such as poverty, lack of local resources, or low education levels. As a result, mistrust of medical systems is common among people of color. According to Zero to Three’s State of Babies, nearly 1/3 of Black Americans report that they have personally experienced racial discrimination during a healthcare visit and 22% report sometimes avoiding care because they fear discrimination. These fears are warranted. Rates of maternal mortality and delivery complications demonstrate that minority women and children often receive lower-quality hospital care. Racial health disparities have persisted over multiple decades and are not improving over time. In fact, the racial health divide may actually be deepening because of COVID-19.

New mothers often rely upon a trusted network of family and friends. Robust social supports such as these are a crucial protective factor for families of color. Unfortunately, due to social distancing, mothers of color currently have less access to social support. Black women in particular have an elevated risk of postpartum depression and more severe postpartum conditions including postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can develop if childbirth is especially traumatic. Low social support is a significant risk factor for such conditions and isolation has negative impacts on overall health. These facts suggest that pregnant women and mothers of color have a heightened risk of serious physical and mental health complications during this pandemic.

As communities come together to take care of each other, we must ensure that Black, Latinx/Hispanic, and Native American families are not left behind. To achieve the strongest possible outcomes for all, we must meaningfully address health disparities in our communities, beginning with the earliest days of each child’s life. TexProtects is proud to be a part of the Prenatal to Three (PN-3) Collaborative which works to ensure more young Texas children benefit from effective and well- funded programs that promote healthy beginnings, supported families, and quality early care (learn more).

COVID-19 has forced us all to reimagine what normal looks like on an individual level. Our health systems are also reimagining how they will protect us through and beyond this health crisis. Although that process will be challenging, it has the potential to foster new innovations. Now is the time to overturn the status quo of a system which has failed to provide equal care to all children. TexProtects is committed to a future where equality in child and maternal healthcare is the new normal. 

TexProtects Stands Up | Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System

 TexProtects’ vision is one where every child is safe, nurtured, and resilient — no matter the color of their skin. This vision cannot be realized while families of color continue to be wounded by systemic racism and injustice. As part of our effort to speak out and stand up against injustice, this blog is part of a series to highlight existing inequalities in our child protection systems. A deepened understanding of these issues can help us know better and do better so that Texas is a safe place to be born – where families can thrive and where every individual is seen and valued equally.

TexProtects’ mission and vision are to prevent children from the trauma of abuse and neglect and to keep families together when children can be kept safe. However, due to various circumstances impacting child safety and risk, some children and families come into contact with the child protection system. Unfortunately, data shows that from intake (recognizing and reporting abuse) to permanency, Black families and children are disproportionately represented and disparities in outcomes are present in the child protection system in Texas.

Black children are 1.8 times more likely to be reported as abuse victims, 2 times more likely be investigated, and 1.7 times more likely to be removed from their home than their White counterparts due to biases and racism at personal, community, and systemic levels. The stakes are higher the further Black children move through the system. They experience more placements, wait longer to be adopted, and are more likely to age out of care.

Tackling disproportionality in the child protection system cannot be done in isolation. Families often interact with so many other systems: healthcare, education, juvenile justice, criminal justice, and more. Therefore, it is crucial we collaborate across systems when addressing disproportionality. Unfortunately, targeted efforts to do this in a thoughtful, systematic way were defunded in Texas in 2018.

The Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement was initially created in 2010 to work in the context of Child Protective Services (CPS) but later recognized the value of working across systems so it expanded to include other state agencies. Housed within the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), the office was tasked with studying and solving the issue of racial inequities and providing context to the issue of disproportionality. After it was disbanded, CPS subsequently created the role to continue the work within their own agency (Department of Family and Protective Services). Tanya Rollins, the State Disproportionality Manager, now leads the agency’s efforts to address institutional racism. CPS continues to provide its workforce with training on racial and ethnic identity and cultural awareness, as well as poverty simulations.

Despite these activities, the system clearly continues to produce more negative outcomes for Black families and their children. To do better, to create long term change, there must be increased dedication, support, and resources toward both describing and solving the problem. 

We all have a part to play and plenty of areas for growth and change: on an individual level, on a policy and practice level, and on a systems level. TexProtects will continue to speak up and stand up against injustice and inequality, and we commit to addressing inequities through our policy and programmatic work to help ensure that the child welfare system no longer disproportionately produces outcomes that negatively impact Black children. We call on you to participate in and support this work too.