August 6, 2014

Help children arriving at border and Texas kids, too

In Tarrant County, 1,756 kids were living in foster care as of last year.

The recent focus on the needs of immigrant children from Central America raises a question about our collective responsibility of responding to another, less visible humanitarian crisis: The thousands of kids who, through no fault of their own, have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect.

Texas faces a shortage of foster homes for these children who, like those fleeing Central America, have been traumatized and faced horrific difficulties.

The lack of foster homes too often forces children in foster care to be bounced from one home to another, re-traumatizing them by subsequent parental-figure rejection, placing them further behind in school and causing greater overall instability.

In Tarrant County, 1,756 kids were living in foster care as of last year. And more than half of the children — 53 percent — had to be placed outside of the county because there were not enough foster homes.

More than 400 kids in foster care are featured on the state’s website. (http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/application/TARE/Search.aspx/Children)

There’s Skyejanelle, an adorable smiling 2-year-old in a pink dress with pink bows. Joshua, an 11-year-old who likes to play outside. And 16-year-old Andrea, who likes to sing and dance.

Texas has a shameful record on protecting Texas children from abuse:

• 66,398 children were victims of abuse and neglect confirmed by CPS in 2013 — 3,540 in Tarrant County.
• 156 kids died due to abuse and neglect in 2013.
• Texas had the 7th- highest fatality rate at 3.08 per 100,000 children, according to Child Maltreatment 2012, a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Children and Families. The national average was 2.20.
• The state ranked No. 1 in the number of child deaths due to abuse and neglect, according to the Child Maltreatment report.
• More than 17,000 kids were removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect last year. A total of 30,740 Texas kids lived in foster homes.

The numbers can make us feel helpless. But there are solutions.

Growing evidence supports the need for more investment in prevention programs. And the new Department of Family Protective Services management is starting to get it.

New research is reconfirming the evidence showing that prevention programs, such as voluntary family support home visiting, including the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP), help prevent child abuse.

Other evidence-based voluntary home visiting programs making a difference in Texas include AVANCE, Early Head Start, Health Families America, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, Parents as Teachers and the Positive Parenting Program.

Although their circumstances are different, the unaccompanied immigrants and our neighborhood children, abused by the very parents charged to protect them, all have been through incredible trauma. And they all need our help.

Madeline McClure is executive director of TexProtects, The Texas Association for the Protection of Children. madeline@texprotects.org

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