Podcast: Child Abuse Prevention During COVID
March 29, 2021

Podcast: Child Abuse Prevention During COVID

In observance of National Child Abuse Prevention Month during April, The Rees-Jones Foundation spoke with Katie Olse, CEO of Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services, and Texas Center for Child and Family Studies.

In early March, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services published its FY2020 Child Fatality Annual Report. While child abuse and neglect has continued to decrease in Texas over the last decade, the DFPS report showed an uptick in child fatalities related to maltreatment in 2020 with 251 children dying due to abuse or neglect.

The report states that in a vast majority of the fatality cases – 218 – there were no open CPS investigations or ongoing services at the time of death. However, in 52 percent of child fatalities, the child or family had a history with CPS.

Olse noted that many child fatalities in 2020 were due to accidental death such as a child being left in a hot car, car accident, drowning, or unsafe sleep practices. However, the DFPS report states, “Most of this year’s increase was due to concerns surrounding neglectful supervision”. Confirmed neglect-related fatalities accounted for 66 percent of child fatalities.

The number of reports to the child abuse hotline are down. Olse clarified that she doesn’t believe this is because there is less abuse, but perhaps because there has been less interaction between children and mandatory reporters such as teachers or childcare providers.

“We are hearing, and have heard over the past year, that while reports are down,” said Olse, “the need for services has actually not gone down.” The needs of families have changed since the beginning of the pandemic. As such, the services provided by community organizations have pivoted to ensure that families are able to survive, and abuse doesn’t become a product of the pandemic.

“This has certainly been unprecedented for all of us working in the system,” said Olse. “It’s very different from other disasters because it’s wide-spread, and not localized like a hurricane or wild fire where we’re able to mobilize and bring resources from other parts of the state. It’s also much longer term, so whereas some of those disasters have an episode, it’s over, and then we all work to rebuild – this has just lasted a long time.”

Olse pointed to the mobilization she witnessed in Bexar County. Family Tapestry, the organization implementing Community-Based Care in the region, pivoted its outreach to serve children in emergency shelters.

“Remember when you couldn’t get cleaning supplies?” Olse recalled. Family Tapestry tapped its faith-based organizations and churches that weren’t having in-person services. Those congregations gathered their cleaning supplies and delivered them to the shelters in need. “That will always stick with me,” Olse reflected.

Family Tapestry wasn’t alone. Other organizations partnered with schools and food pantries to station their staff onsite. As families received their hot meals and food boxes, staff was on hand to provide support services like short-term housing, counseling, financial respite, and additional referrals as necessary.

With the establishment of an infrastructure to meet the immediate needs of families, organizations turned their attention to what was unfolding inside the home. Access to food, water and shelter was the first step to prevent maltreatment and neglect, but how can organizations support healthy family structure in the longer-term during the pandemic and after?

Enacted by Congress in 2018, the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) seeks to shift the focus of child welfare toward preventing the removal of children by reallocating federal funds upstream to prevention services. After a two-year delay to solidify roll-out plans, the State of Texas is slated to implement FFPSA in October of 2021. If the State fails to meet this deadline, it will lose millions in federal funding for the child welfare system, which trickles down to qualifying organizations, and further, to the families in need.

But organizations face an additional barrier. In order to qualify for funding, organizations must be on the Title IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse; and to be on the clearing house, organizations must, among other criteria, demonstrate the efficacy of their programs through studies and research reviewed by professionals and approved by the clearing house.

The problem, Olse said, is that many organizations already provide evidence-based services, but formally demonstrating that is difficult.

Therein lies opportunity, said Olse. Funders can help ensure their communities have a wide array of support (i.e. domestic violence, homelessness, poverty, etc.) by helping organizations with the required evaluations that demonstrate their effectiveness.

Next time, The Rees-Jones Foundation Podcast dives into the Family First Prevention Services Act.

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