TexProtects Stands Up | The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19

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.

We will only be able to grasp the full negative effects of COVID-19 once the pandemic is behind us, but the disproportionate affect the virus is having on children and families of color is already apparent. The onset of this health crisis has further exposed how systemic racism is creating harmful disparities between white communities and communities of color. The ways in which Black and Latinx or Hispanic communities are negatively affected by the fallout from COVID-19 translate into potentially negative outcomes for their children.

Instances of COVID-19 cases and deaths are disproportionately affecting Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities. Based on the COVID Racial Data Tracker by the COVID Tracking Project, the nation has lost at least 25,932 Black lives to COVID-19 to date. Deaths of Black people from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than what would be expected based on their population percentage. Latinx/Hispanic people also make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In Texas, 15% of all COVID-19 cases and 16% of all deaths were Black people, when Black people make up just 12% of the total state population. For Latinx/Hispanic people, cases are also disproportionately higher, making up 47% of all COVID cases, when Texas is 39% Latinx/Hispanic.

But these are just the tested and reported numbers available in Texas. Of all tested cases and instances of deaths, Texas has only reported race data for 11% of positive cases and 23% of deaths. This means that the percentages of Black and Latinx/Hispanic deaths could be much greater than what is reported.

But it is systemic racism, not race, that is the risk factor for these communities.

Racism is playing out during the pandemic through examples like a disproportionate number of COVID-19 testing sites in predominantly white communities compared to Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities, and yet they are still disproportionately impacted. One data analysis found, for example, that Dallas had 15 more testing sites in whiter areas and Austin had 7 more. Experts are saying these testing disparities are problematic – if we aren’t testing our most marginalized people, we could miss pockets of infection and have new large areas of virus outbreak. 

Given that there is a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions like hypertension and diabetes in communities of color, Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. These chronic health conditions are a result of centuries of intergenerational trauma and a lack of resources inflicted on these communities. A lack of health insurance, poor access to medical care, and other systemic inequalities also undermine virus prevention efforts in these communities.

Living conditions (e.g. food deserts, minimal nearby medical facilities) in predominantly Black and Latinx/Hispanic areas may also contribute to underlying health conditions. These underlying health conditions may complicate people’s ability to follow health guidelines to prevent getting sick with COVID-19.

The likelihood that a person will test positive for COVID-19 increases in areas where the population of Black residents is higher.  This may be attributable to higher concentrations of Black people living in densely populated areas, which are due to institutional racism in the form of residential housing segregation and fewer access to services. This is also known as redlining — a racist practice denying or putting up barriers to services like for residents of certain areas based on their race. These circumstances make guidelines for social distancing almost impossible to follow safely.

Black and Latinx/Hispanic individuals are also more likely to hold jobs that are deemed “essential”. Essential workers are continuing to work outside the home, putting themselves and their families at risk. According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of Latinx/Hispanic and Black workers are employed in service industry jobs compared to just 16% of non-Hispanic whites nationally. Latinx/Hispanic workers make up 17% of total employment in the U.S. but constitute 53% of agricultural workers. Black workers account for 12% of all employed workers nationally but make up 30% of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses. Both sectors are areas of work that have continued outside the home during the pandemic.  

These barriers not only make people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19, they also impact how families are able to care for their children during this crisis. This systemic racism apparent in our healthcare and housing systems trickles down to Black and Latinx/Hispanic children. Placing more stressors on parents and caregivers in turn places stressors on children, who are then less able to cultivate protective factors that build resilience.

Protective factors — including social connections, concrete supports for basic needs, knowledge of parenting and child development, social and emotional development of children, nurturing and attachment, and resilience — provide the key to ensuring that risk and adversity in childhood are not predictive of negative outcomes later in life.

We have a lot of work to do to ensure all children and families stay healthy through this pandemic and into the future. The state of Texas is making a small start:  the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has recently announced that it is seeking to remedy the lack of information about how Black and Latinx/Hispanic communities are being affected by the virus  and will work to study this. But answers must also come from communities themselves so that those of us working toward child protection can learn how to best empower community work and strengthen families to ensure they have access to the right supports at the right time. We must use a holistic approach to ensure that their access to resources is distributed equitably.

Another way we can help is through supporting the Texas Prenatal to Three (PN-3) Collaborative (learn more). Through PN-3, TexProtects, Children At Risk, and Texans Care for Children – along with many other organizations across the state – have come together to urge policymakers to ensure all Texas children have equitable access to healthy beginnings, family supports, and high quality early care and education.

Providing Input to the DFPS Legislative Appropriations Request

TexProtects collaborated with the Child Protection Roundtable to provide budget input to the state

TexProtects has been working with our partners as part of the statewide Child Protection Roundtable to understand the effects of this pandemic on children and families, the possible fiscal implications, and the history of legislative budget cuts and their impacts in the past during times of economic challenges.

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) is the budget request made from the Department to the Legislature which details the funds that will be needed to continue their services for the next biennium. This LAR includes the projected budgets for Prevention and Early Intervention, Statewide Intake, Child Protective Investigations, Child Protective Services, and Adult Protective Services. One of TexProtects’ main focuses on providing input for the LAR was looking at prevention dollars.

Historically, when child abuse and neglect prevention funding has been cut, more money has ultimately been spent longer-term and there have been more confirmed child abuse victims. This is not wise-investment and not right for the children TexProtects aims to protect. We know there are strategies that work, and we worked thoughtfully and carefully with our partners to lay those out in our recommendations for the DFPS LAR.

Read the full Child Protection Roundtable DFPS LAR input below.

May 29, 2020

On behalf of The Child Protection Roundtable (CPRT), a consortium of statewide advocates, research organizations, health and education interests, direct service providers and other key stakeholders from over 50 organizations with child protection expertise, we greatly appreciate the opportunity to provide recommendations for the FY2022-2023 biennium Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS).

The Child Protection Roundtable serves as a convener for member organizations engaged in child welfare which share a child-centered, common vision and leverage data, resources and strategy to achieve more progress collectively than could be achieved individually. The Child Protection Roundtable works in partnership with DFPS, the state legislature, and other stakeholders to improve the safety, health, and well-being of children.

More specifically, the goal of the Child Protection Roundtable is to be the leading voice and driving force in child protection public policy and governmental action in Texas that:

  • Helps prevent child abuse and neglect before it occurs;
  • Ensures protection and well-being of children and youth who come into state care; and
  • Heals the ongoing trauma and other adverse consequences experienced by children and youth as the result of maltreatment.

In light of the public health crisis that has left so many in our state economically unstable, investment in the safety of our children at risk and in vulnerable situations must remain a priority. Please consider the following LAR recommendations for prevention and early intervention, supports for transition-age youth and young adults, children with developmental disabilities, Community-Based Care (CBC), CPS workforce, implementation of a trauma-informed system, and the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). In several instances, we have recommended increased investment; however, we would not want any of these increases to come at the expense of reduced investment in any of the other areas as they are all important to the overall system and the infants, toddlers, and children of all ages, and families, being served.

Prevention and Early Intervention

To break the cycle of child abuse and neglect and reduce the long-term strain on our child welfare system, we need to break the cycle of cutting child abuse prevention funds under DFPS’ Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) division in times of fiscal challenge. Given the depth and breadth of the economic recession underway, coupled with stay-at-home orders and recommendations, we know from history that child abuse is likely occurring at higher rates even though reports may temporarily be down.

When the FY2004-2005 prevention budget was cut in 2003 by 35%, we saw a 20% increase in confirmed child abuse victims between 2004 and 2005. Once again, after the Great Recession in 2008-2009, we saw a 44% increase in confirmed victims in 2011. Maintaining our investment in prevention and early intervention is our best hope for avoiding yet another spike in abuse, associated costs, and strain on the CPS system.

Given the social isolation and increasing stress and risks for families due to COVID-19, the work of strengthening families and ensuring child safety must begin before a crisis occurs. Economic instability, domestic violence, substance use, and mental health challenges are highly correlated with increased risk for child abuse and neglect.  While mitigating the health effects of the virus is primary, these longer-term risks will continue to affect families and child safety for years to come. As such, investment in the front end of the system is needed now more than ever.

The investments made in these prevention networks are critical lifelines of support during this crisis and should continue to be rolled out through existing contracts with community providers. These prevention services will keep children safe now and save the state money later, with an average return of investment between $1.26-$8.08. Further investment in family preservation, or secondary prevention, also saves money.

As noted by the DFPS 2018 Prevention Task Force Report, “Diverting 5% of families from Family Based Safety Services (1786) would save the state more than $9.4 million. Preventing 3% of removals (593) would save upwards of $20.3 million.”

The Child Protection Roundtable encourages the state to continue to increase investment in primary prevention programs through PEI to prevent child abuse and neglect, strengthen and support families, increase connections to community resources, and decrease truancy and delinquency for older youth. The current PEI strategic plan indicates that to adequately protect families, a 20% increase in prevention funds is needed every biennium. Currently, DFPS allocates 5% of their budget to the PEI division.

To preserve families and decrease the number of children entering the child welfare system, the state should preserve and increase investments in the following:

  • Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES)
  • Helping Through Intervention and Prevention (HIP)
  • Texas Nurse-Family Partnership (TNFP) and Texas Home Visiting (THV)
  • Family and Youth Support (FAYS)
  • Military Families and Veterans Pilot Prevention Program (MFVPP)

These programs have established infrastructure and community contracts/networks that can be leveraged to quickly and efficiently deliver proven programs to families who choose to enroll. To cut these programs would result not only in increased risks for children and long-term costs to the state, but local nonprofits and networks would be threatened, leaving even more Texans out of work and the state without a system by which to empower community family support and prevention programs.

Transition-Age Youth and Young Adults

The Child Protection Roundtable encourages DFPS to increase support for transition-aged youth and young adults. As DFPS has noted in the LAR for the current biennium, “[w]ithout such consistent services, youth are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, are at higher risk of teen pregnancy and parenting, have lower reading and math skills and high school graduation rates, are more likely to experience homelessness, and have higher rates of unemployment and likelihood of long-term dependence on public assistance.” Most services for older youth are federally funded through the Chafee program, which requires a 20 percent state match. The Chafee program allows DFPS to offer services that help youth and young adults pursue their education and employment, secure housing, and meet many other needs they have as they transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, DFPS has not had the funding to meet the projected needs of this population and those needs have increased substantially with the COVID-19 pandemic. The state should invest more in these youth and ensure youth who age out of care are able to succeed and receive support when they face crises.

Children with Developmental Disabilities

The Child Protection Roundtable supports ensuring access to long-term services and supports to children with developmental disabilities and their families in lieu of relinquishment of custody. These vital long-term services and supports include Medicaid-funded Community First Choice, behavioral supports, personal care services and Medicaid waivers. For its part, DFPS should provide access to training for families on how best to support the mental health needs of their children with developmental or intellectual disabilities, ensure Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) programs assist families of children with developmental disabilities to access needed long-term services and supports, and comply with the Texas Promoting Independence Plan by seeking funding for Medicaid waivers for children currently living in DFPS-funded General Residential Operations so children with developmental disabilities can either return home, or move to a family-based alternative setting. Further details on these requests are set forth in EveryChild’s separate submittal of input to DFPS.

Community-Based Care

The Roundtable encourages DFPS to request full funding for continuing Community-Based Care (CBC) operations and contractual commitments in the present CBC catchment areas and to support the continued expansion of CBC during the upcoming FY2022-23 biennium. CBC has demonstrated early promise during Phase I service delivery and recently began to move into Phase II case management in the first of the four catchment areas under contract. As CBC moves forward into further phases and additional catchment areas, it will be important for DFPS to have the necessary resources to advance multi-contractor system characteristics such as data management and interoperability. It will also be important for DFPS to have the resources and supports to assure accountability and transparency to all system stakeholders, building further confidence that CBC is achieving its promise, as we all hope will prove to be the case. To the extent the present level of available resources is not sufficient to achieve these vital needs, the Child Protection Roundtable encourages DFPS to request those resources and will support those requests.

CPS Workforce

CPS workers perform selfless work for children and families in the child welfare system, even under normal circumstances. However, in the midst of COVID-19, CPS workers have had to make dramatic adjustments in how they work with families. When the rest of us have been told to stay home and stay safe, CPS workers have been asked to go out and keep other families and children safe. In addition to adjusting their practice, CPS workers are facing some of the most challenging cases of their career as COVID-19 has only amplified the stressors and challenges in many families who were already struggling. To effectively ensure child safety, the CPS workforce must be adequately supported, including the provision of appropriate supports to address their own mental health needs resulting from secondary trauma.

Texas has worked hard to improve salaries and reduce caseloads the past few years. It is vital that caseworkers have the ability to provide families and children in care with targeted case management.  Cuts to CPS funding and salaries will result in more turnover and retention issues and will directly equate to declining outcomes for children and youth in care. The Child Protection Roundtable urges DFPS to continue investing in the CPS workforce by maintaining funding for their salaries and benefits and expanding secondary trauma services such as counseling complimented by debriefing with trained supervisors who can recognize the signs of secondary trauma and can refer for help when needed.

Trauma-Informed System

The Child Protection Roundtable supports DFPS’ continued leadership efforts to transform the Texas child welfare system into a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive system. DFPS was a leading partner in helping to develop the report Building a Trauma-Informed Child Welfare System: A Blueprint as part of the Statewide Collaborative on Trauma-Informed Care (SCTIC). There is broad support among Child Protection Roundtable membership and other stakeholders for ongoing efforts to improve training and use of trauma-informed practices throughout the child welfare system. There is also a clear understanding of the benefits of trauma-informed practices for children, families, and other system participants. The work of the SCTIC continues with the Implementation Taskforce, including the adoption of a DFPS rule to define trauma and trauma-informed care, and the creation of a website as a centralized location for information on trauma. The Child Protection Roundtable supports DFPS maintaining this priority in planning and budgeting for the next biennium.

Family First Prevention Services Act

The Child Protection Roundtable recommends that DFPS include adequate funding for successful implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) in its LAR Request. This funding should maximize opportunities to keep more children safely with their parents, prioritize placing more children in family-based foster care settings, and improve the quality of congregate care, especially in Residential Treatment Centers.

The DFPS LAR should include a placeholder for state funds needed to pull down a federal match to cover services that will prevent children from entering the Texas foster care system. DFPS should ask for state funds needed for more evidence-based substance use disorder, mental health, and in-home parenting skill building services. About 1.6 million Texans have lost health insurance during COVID-19 so far, meaning they might have lost access to mental health medications or other critical services that support children and their caregivers. During this difficult budget time, we encourage DFPS to maximize FFPSA dollars to help families at risk of having their child removed and placed in foster care. These investments will not only help families get through these difficult times, but they will also save money down the road in the budgets for CPS and other state services.

While crafting its LAR, DFPS should protect existing federal reimbursement for foster care placements by prioritizing strategies that would move children out of congregate care into family-based settings. When the FFPSA takes effect in Texas on October 1, 2021, Texas is at risk of losing federal reimbursement for its congregate care providers. The Child Protection Roundtable especially encourages three strategies:

  • Establish a kinship navigator program using FFPSA dollars to enhance support for kinship caregivers, who accounted for more than half of Texas’ placements during FY19;
  • Request funding to recruit more foster homes and anticipate increases in licensed foster homes resulting from the FFPSA requirement to align Texas’ minimum standards with the new model licensing standards, which may remove or reduce some barriers to licensure; and
  • Shift funding to Treatment Foster Family Care to serve more children with high needs in family-based settings. The Roundtable also encourages DFPS to ask the legislature to expand eligibility for Treatment Foster Family Care to older youth. Treatment Family Foster Care is only available to children under 10, and about 90 percent of children and youth in Residential Treatment Centers were 10 and older in FY19.

DFPS should also protect existing federal funding by elevating the quality of Residential Treatment Centers by requesting funds for enhanced provider rates and start-up grants to incentivize providers to meet the FFPSA’s Qualified Residential Treatment Program standards.

Federal Pandemic Emergency Assistance

We acknowledge the considerable recent and ongoing federal activity directed toward providing emergency aid and support to states in responding to the global pandemic, and we hope DFPS will take full advantage of these supplemental resources for their intended purposes as they are enacted and thereafter disbursed. Most if not all of the areas of concern addressed in this letter have been impacted by the pandemic, and our hope is that these supplemental resources will help Texas make continued progress across the child welfare system, building on the momentum of the past three sessions.


Thank you again for the opportunity to provide input on the DFPS LAR for the FY2022-2023 biennium and for the dedication of DFPS to the safety, health, and well-being of the children and families of Texas. We look forward to our continued partnership and a productive 87th Texas Legislature. For any questions or concerns, please contact Knox Kimberly at knox.kimberly@upbring.org or (512) 567-6929.

Partnering to Bring Family Connects to North Texas

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Promoting Positive Family and Community Engagement For CAPM

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:

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.

COVID-19 Survival Kit

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 libraryfamily activity ideasvideos, 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.

Stay Informed and Learning During Social Distancing

Child welfare and early childhood media to watch, read, and listen to during this time of social distancing.*

Help us keep our mission moving by staying informed about how to keep all children safe, nurtured, and resilient. Here is a short list, curated by our team, of the most compelling educational documentaries, shows, podcasts and books related to our mission to protect children from the trauma of abuse and neglect. With the practice of social distancing and more time at home in the days and weeks ahead, we encourage you to fill some extra down time you may have with mission-driven media that helps you stay engaged and connected to our work.

Available on Netflix:

The Beginning of Life – This series uses breakthroughs in technology and neuroscience to show the importance of adult-child interaction, a child’s stages of learning, and the challenges of becoming a parent.

Babies – The producers of this series followed 15 infants and spoke to 36 scientists over one year to explore the groundbreaking science behind how infants develop.

Note: The following two suggestions have content warnings for graphic depictions of child maltreatment.

I Am Jane Doe — A documentary about child sex trafficking that highlights real cases, including a recent case that involved Congress.

The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez – This documentary peels back the curtain on a young child’s brutal murder and the public trials of his guardians and the social workers tasked with checking in on him.

Available on Hulu:

Foster – A documentary that follows stories of foster children and teens, their foster parents, and former foster youth in the L.A. County child welfare system.

Available on Amazon Video:

Instant Family – This feel-good movie is on the lighter side and based on a true story about foster care parents and the three siblings they took in from the foster system. It also highlights the process and case management aspects of foster care.

Books and Audiobooks Available on Amazon:

Note: Amazon is limiting all deliveries to essential items but their e-books and audiobook offerings are still available for purchase!

Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality – This book presents a blueprint for fulfilling the promise of reducing educational and economic inequalities for children by expanding access to education and financial resources at a critical stage of child development.

The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired – Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. explore the four core building blocks of a healthy child’s development: feeling safe, seen, soothed, and secure.

Note: The following suggestions also have content warnings for graphic depictions of child maltreatment and other trauma.

Spilled Milk: Based On A True Story – This is an easy but powerful read. It’s a real story that highlights the cracks in Child Protective Services reporting and investigating, politics, and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on a child throughout their lifespan. (Also available as an audiobook.)

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – This book takes at the neuroscience behind how trauma affects children and adults. It also goes in-depth on paths to healing from that trauma. (Also available as an audiobook.)

The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity —  Written by California Surgeon General Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, this book explores how deeply our bodies can be impacted by Adverse Childhood Experiences for a lifetime.

Available Podcasts:  

Child Welfare information Gateway Podcast Series – This podcasts series provides interviews and panel conversations for child welfare and social work professional. It covers a wide range of topics like implementing evidence-based programs, tribal courts and child welfare, reunifications, and other issues surrounding casework.

The Brain Architects – This new podcast from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University focuses on topics that surround the developing child’s brain from brain architecture to toxic stress to serve and return.

*On March 19, Governor Greg Abbott and Dr. John Hellerstadt, Commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, declared a state of public health disaster for Texas. Apart from encouraging hygiene and cleanliness practices, limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, and shuttering dine-in options at restaurants, we are being asked to do our part for the community by staying socially isolated except for essential trips. Spending a lot of time stuck inside during the COVID-19 health crisis is important to “flatten the curve” to slow the virus’s infection rate.

Texas’ Child Maltreatment Fatality Data Shows There is Still Work to Do

Every week, more than four Texas children die because of child abuse and neglect.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) recently released their Child Maltreatment Fatalities and Near Fatalities Annual Report for Fiscal Year 2019. The report collects and provides context for the number of child deaths that occurred throughout the state, a troubling reminder that we have much more work to do in preventing child abuse and neglect. This year, there were a reported 235 confirmed abuse or neglect-related child fatalities in Texas, the highest number of fatalities we have seen in the last decade since it peaked in 2009 at 280 deaths, and on the rise from a low of 151 in 2014. Texas’s number of child fatalities is well above the national average with a 2.70 per capita rate for child abuse and neglect fatalities over the national average of 2.39.

Overall Takeaways:

  • The top causes of child abuse and neglect related fatalities included:
    • Neglectful Supervision (total of 141 cases)
      • Drowning (48 cases)
      • Unsafe Sleep (30 cases)
      • Vehicle Related (19 cases)
    • Physical Abuse (total of 94 cases)
      • Blunt Force Trauma (56 cases)
  • In 91% of the child fatalities, there was no open Child Protective Services (CPS) investigation or case at the time of the child’s death.
  • There was no prior CPS history with either the child or the perpetrator in approximately 55% of the child abuse or neglect fatalities. This percentage remained steady from Fiscal Year 2018.

These percentages still reveal that several families had previous or active involvement with CPS. Therefore, families who experienced a child death were not receiving the support they needed or something about the services these families received did not work.

Victim Characteristics:

  • 72% of child deaths were between the ages of 0 and 3
  • There was an increase involving children age 4 through 6.
  • 56% of the child fatalities were due to neglectful supervision, which is specified as physical/medical neglect, and unsafe sleep practices accompanied by substance abuse.

This concerning information illustrates the importance of prevention and early intervention efforts like Project HOPES and home visiting programs that support families in the early years when brain development is at its peak and families may not be connected to other resources that could help them create safe and nurturing environments for their children before a crisis occurs. As the Prevent Child Abuse Chapter for Texas, TexProtects is on the front lines to increase access to evidence-based prevention programs so that children can be safe, and their families can get the support they need.

Another concern about what the data shows is that we are still seeing some populations disproportionately represented in child deaths across the state:

  • Hispanic children made up the largest percentage of deaths (35%).
  • African American children were the highest rate per capita (7.85 vs 3.14).
  • 29% of the fatalities were children with special medical needs.
  • Approximately 57% of all child deaths were male (133).

It is worth noting that Texas defunded the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement in 2018, leaving one person at DFPS leading the efforts to address racial inequities. In the report, DFPS mentions their cross-sectional work with other agencies and stakeholders, but it is worth considering how that work can be more targeted and effective specifically as it relates to equity issues.

Underlying Issues Faced by the Perpetrators of Abuse/Neglect:

  • 48% of the child fatalities involved substance use of a caregiver.
  • A parent/caregiver in the child’s household reported active mental health concerns in 32% of the child fatalities.

This is where we can leverage federal dollars for prevention services eligible through the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) for families. These federal dollars intend to address the key drivers of child abuse and neglect: substance use, mental health, and lack of parenting skills. Key policymakers and state agencies are making decisions now about how to implement FFPSA in Texas. TexProtects believes that making high quality, evidence-based prevention services available to families that address these issues will provide parents and caregivers with the tools they need to meet their children’s needs and safely keep their families together.

The Child Maltreatment Fatalities Report makes clear to advocates and policymakers alike why it is so necessary that Texas invests in child abuse and neglect prevention efforts. Every week, more than four children die because of child abuse and neglect. At TexProtects, we believe these deaths can be prevented. Join us as we work to ensure that they are. 

TexProtects Update from the Frontlines

Pictured left to right: Kate Murphy with Texans Care For Children , Alison Mohr Boleware with NASW Texas , Sarah Crockett with Texas CASA, Inc. , Kerri Judice with TexProtects, and Adrian Gaspar with Disability Rights Texas.

DFPS Hearing on the Family First Prevention Services Act

On Jan. 30, TexProtects joined advocates from around the state at the Department of Family and Protective Services’ (DFPS) public hearing on the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). In the 86th legislative session, TexProtects championed S.B. 355 which directed DFPS to develop a strategic plan for the implementation of FFPSA. DFPS published their Texas Child Welfare Changing Landscape Action Plan several months ago, and this hearing offered the public an opportunity to provide feedback toward their planning process and the opportunities presented by FFPSA. 

As a refresher, FFPSA changes the way federal dollars can be spent:

  • Title IV-E dollars previously could only be used for children once in substitute care, but now this funding is available for evidence-informed services for children and families to prevent removal. Specifically, these federal dollars intend to address the key drivers of child abuse and neglect: substance use, mental health, and lack of parenting skills. The idea behind this strategy is to provide the supports necessary to keep families safely together.
  • For families who require legal intervention from CPS, funding will be designated for family-like settings and congregate care placements that provide higher quality services.

The provisions of FFPSA also aim to better support kinship caregivers and provide older youth in care with more supports as they transition into adulthood.

TexProtects provided testimony alongside our advocacy partners from Texas CASA, Texans Care for Children, Disability Rights Texas, National Association of Social Workers, Parents as Teachers, Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), Nurturing Parenting, Center for Public Policy Priorities, and several community providers. In our testimony we emphasized the importance of getting the eligibility criteria right for these critical prevention services so that families have access to needed supports. We also discussed the importance of preserving funding for primary prevention efforts through Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) initiatives such as Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support (HOPES) and NFP at DFPS and using the infrastructure already in place to expand services to higher risk families. Finally, we noted the importance of supporting kinship families and exploring the provisions of FFPSA that would allow further support of older youth in care.

We were glad to see such a great turnout at the hearing and the amount of meaningful, intentional recommendations provided for DFPS to consider. Texas’ deadline to implement the provisions of FFPSA by October 2021 is just around the corner, and we hope to see DFPS incorporate this feedback as they carry out their work.

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 beth@texprotects.org 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 jennifer@texprotects.org. 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.