At TCU, 5,162 blue pinwheels were set up in April to symbolize confirmed child abuse victims in Tarrant County. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram) mfaulkner@star-telegram.com
At TCU, 5,162 blue pinwheels were set up in April to symbolize confirmed child abuse victims in Tarrant County. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram) mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Special Reports

When teaching parents, ‘the earlier we can start, the better’

June 05, 2017 09:16 AM

UPDATED June 06, 2017 06:16 PM

FORT WORTH

Helping families break cycles of child abuse and neglect takes many forms, from leadership skills or art classes for young victims to teaching a parent to know when a toddler is ready for potty training.

Texas is trying to fight child abuse with programs ranging from home visits to new parents and military family support, to teen parenting classes, lessons focused on fathering skills, youth camps, art and therapy. The programs are meant to encourage stronger family bonds and touch on different stages of childhood.

“The earlier we can start, the better,” said Sasha Rasco, associate commissioner for prevention and early intervention at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in Austin.

Rasco said the efforts got a boost with a recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing that found the programs are working. The study stated that families which received child abuse prevention services didn’t have “a subsequent substantiated case of child maltreatment.”

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The state has about $90 million for its prevention programs for the current fiscal year, which covers Sept. 1, 2016, through Oct. 31, 2017. Many nonprofits throughout Tarrant County also offer support.

Child advocates say that when parents understand how their babies and children develop, they can better anticipate their needs, which in turn can help prevent abuse. For this reason, many child abuse prevention programs start at the child’s birth with one-on-one lessons for parents about a baby’s brain development.

The state contracts with local programs that offer home visits and other resources, Rasco said. Some programs focus on the early days of motherhood, so new mothers can be better prepared as early as possible, she said.

“Everything else flows from there,” she said.

Experts also stress that understanding child development is critical in the fight against abuse.

Julie Miers, coordinator of the Parents as Teachers program offered through the Fort Worth school district and partly funded by the state, said many challenges parents face come when youngsters are in a highly developmental stage, such as learning to crawl or stand up. Babies start getting into things, Miers said, adding that the program’s goal is to teach parents how to better handle stress tied to situations as these.

Miers said instead of getting angry, parents need to say to themselves: “I need to re-baby proof.”

Dr. Jayme Coffman, medical director of Cook Children’s Center for Prevention of Child Maltreatment, said kids at the biggest risk of dying are typically 6 months to 2 to 3 years old, when tempers tend to flare over potty training and interrupting.

“I’ve had a couple of kids killed for interrupting video games,” Coffman said.

Crying is the No. 1 trigger for physical abuse, Coffman said.

“It has to do with people’s ability to cope. They may have anger issues. There may be drug issues. There may be mental health issues. There may be a combination of those,” said Coffman, medical director over child abuse services for Cook Children’s Medical Center.

Coffman said caregivers may also have unrealistic expectations of how a child should react or behave when, in actuality, the child is not developmentally able to meet those expectations.

“They don’t understand that, so they get frustrated with the child,” Coffman said.

Miers said helping caregivers have more realistic expectations is part of Parents as Teachers’ preventive work.

“In an environment of abuse and neglect children are not able to learn, grow and develop to their full potential,” Miers said.

Staff writer Deanna Boyd contributed to this report.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

The Parenting Center

2928 W. Fifth St., Fort Worth

Hours: 8:30 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday; appointment only Saturday; closed Sunday.

Website: theparentingcenter.org

Phone: 817-332-6348

Parenting advice hotline: 817-332-6399

Mission: “To provide family members and professionals with the tools, resources and services to build successful families.” The nonprofit agency serves between 14,000 and 18,000 clients annually.

Programs: Counseling; home visitations; empowering families; family transitions; parenting and family life education; parenting education in schools.

History: Established in 1975 with funding from the Sid Richardson Foundation, the Junior League of Fort Worth and a contract with the state. Became a partner agency of the United Way of Tarrant County in 1980.

Tarrant County Community Youth Development

2100 N. Main St., Suite 230, Fort Worth

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Website: tarrantcounty.com

Phone: 817-740-4370

Mission: Tarrant County Community Youth Development is the umbrella organization that works in ZIP codes with a high incidence of juvenile violent crime. The county works with local providers to offer juvenile delinquency prevention services, including Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Fort Worth, Girls Inc. of Tarrant County, Headline Mentors & Performing Arts.

Programs: Youth-based curriculum in targeted Fort Worth ZIP codes of 76106 and 76164. Youth leadership; mentoring; life skills.

History: The Community Youth Development Program was established in the mid-1990s during the 74th Legislature to help reduce juvenile crime in places with a high incidence of juvenile crime.

ACH Child and Family Services

3712 Wichita St., Fort Worth

Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (main office hours) Monday-Friday

Website: achservices.org

Phone: 817-335-HOPE (4673); toll-free 888-296-8099

Mission: “Through strength-based partnership, ACH brings resources and skills to children and families struggling with life’s challenges. Together we develop solutions that create safety, hope, love and the capacity to thrive.”

Programs: Crisis intervention; short-term counseling for at-risk youth; emergency care (youth shelter); youth life skills; parenting classes; 24-hour crisis calls; behavioral care; mental health assistance for youth ages 10-17; Safe Place; and Homeless Outreach Project Experience, which focuses on building relationships with homeless teens.

History: ACH Child and Family Services is a nonprofit organization with more than 100 years of helping families. ACH, which began as an effort to help widows and children, works to fight child abuse and neglect in North Texas.

Alliance For Children

Operates several offices throughout Tarrant County

Fort Worth Center, 908 Southland Ave., Fort Worth, 76104

Arlington Center, 1320 W. Abram, 76013

Northeast Center, 625 Grapevine Highway, Hurst, 76054

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Website: allianceforchildren.org

Phone: 817-335-7172 (Fort Worth), 817-795-9992 (Arlington), 817-427-3110 (Hurst)

Mission: “Our mission is to protect Tarrant County children from child abuse through teamed investigations, healing services and community education.”

Programs: “NetSmartz” interactive education program that helps children and teens stay safe on the internet; “P.S. It’s My Body!” program designed to teach children personal safety; “Stewards of Children” sexual abuse prevention training program that teaches adults to prevent and recognize child sexual abuse.

History: Alliance For Children was one of the first children’s advocacy programs in Texas. The nonprofit organization works with law enforcement and CPS investigators while also offering healing and education services.

Justin’s Place

4255 Bryant Irvin Road, Suite 204, Fort Worth

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-235-1829

Website: justinsplace.org

Programs: All In Wednesdays program provides play time for youngsters; Mom’s Night Out; Mentoring-Multiply

Mission: “To enhance the life of a child by empowering mothers to grow spiritually, mentally and physically to life a life free of crisis and walk out of generational poverty.”

History: Programs grew out of a desire to help one child and his mother. Programs were expanded to helps build healthy families by bringing hope and building a foundation to help build self-sufficient families that are no longer experiencing crisis.

Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County

3200 Sanguinet St., Fort Worth

Hours: Vary by partner agency

Phone: 817-927-5200

Website: mentalhealthconnection.org

Programs: Emergency mental health support, information and referrals 24 hours a day; online access to local resources

Mission: “Strengthening mental health through collaboration.”

History: The collaboration of public and private providers started in 1999, after the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, to improve access to mental-health care.

One Safe Place

1100 Hemphill St., Fort Worth

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-916-4323

Website: onesafeplace.org

Programs: Family Justice Center, a multiple-agency model program that offers services to victims of domestic violence

Mission: “One Safe Place serves those affected by domestic violence by providing resources in a loving and hope-filled environment, helping victims become survivors with a thriving, safe, and healthy future.”

History: One Safe Place, the Tarrant Regional Family Justice Center, was formed in 2012 and is a collaboration of partner agencies under one roof to provide services to victims of domestic violence.

Parents as Teachers, Fort Worth school district

Fort Worth school district’s Professional Development Center, 3150 McCart Ave.

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-814-3330

Website: parentsasteachers.org

Programs: Equipping parents to be a child’s first teacher; evidenced-based home visit program that supports families and helps children develop optimally during critical early years; group meetings; developmental screenings for children

Mission: “Parents as Teachers promotes optimal early development, learning and health of children by supporting and engaging their parents and caregivers.”

History: The program began in Missouri in 1981 with the concept that a parent is a child’s “first and best teacher.” Trained specialists, who work in communities across the nation, help equip parents with the knowledge and resources to help their youngsters develop from birth through the early years.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters Lone Star, Statewide Youth Services Network

205 W. Main St., Arlington

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-277-1148

Website: bbbstx.org

Programs: Community and school-based mentoring

Mission: “Our mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever.”

History: Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star started in 1927 when a probation officer in Dallas County worried about the fate of young boys going through the juvenile system. Mentors help young people so they can succeed in life.

Texas Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, Statewide Youth Services Network

2107 N. Collins Blvd., Richardson (Southwest regional office)

Hours: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 972-581-2360

Website: txbgc.org or bgca.org

Programs: Statewide Services Network programs, including club experience; Stay Smart youth curriculum; youth leadership.

Mission: “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

History: The Boys & Girls Clubs began in 1860 in Connecticut when founders created a program that would allow boys to pursue their interests while improving their behavior.

Lena Pope Counseling Services

3200 Sanguinet St., Fort Worth

Hours: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday

Phone: 817-255-2652

Website: lenapope.org

Programs: Play therapy; individual and family counseling to children, adolescents, and families to address physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse or trauma.

Mission: “To help create hope, happiness and success for children and families.”

History: The Lena Pope Home Inc. has long sought to help young people by creating a home that would serve as a caring place for children in need. The organization’s programs have evolved through the years, but continue to focus on youngsters and families.

Shaken Baby Alliance

8101 Boat Club Road., Suite 240 #154, Fort Worth

Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-882-8686

Website: shakenbaby.org

Programs: Family victim support; one-on-one peer support; prevention training for high school students and child care providers; case consultation for investigators and legal personnel; in-school support to teachers to educate young people about shaken baby syndrome.

Mission: “The Shaken Baby Alliance’s mission is to provide support for victim families and professionals, prevention of child abuse, and justice for innocent victims.”

History: The organization began in the early 1990s with a focus on helping prevent shaken baby cases. Since 1998, the agency says it has trained more than 5,000 high school students in how to deal with a crying baby.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Fort Worth Inc.

249 W. Thornhill Drive, Fort Worth (main campus)

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-289-3895

Website: catholiccharitiesfortworth.org

Programs: Families First provides free assessment, parenting education and support services to strengthen families using an evidence-based curriculum. Services also include basic needs assistance; resource development and/or attainment; community referrals; child care during group parenting sessions; and limited transportation to group sessions. Bilingual (Spanish-speaking) staff and curriculum are available. Classes are held all over Tarrant County in locations including schools, churches and local community centers.

Mission: “The Families First program mission is to reduce the risk factors that lead to child abuse and/or neglect through improvement of family functioning, increased parenting skills, improvement in children’s behavior at home and at school and increased social supports and social connections.”

History: Catholic Charities serves vulnerable populations, including children and families in poverty, immigrants, refugees and the homeless.

Tarrant Cares

Online resource

Website: tarrantcares.org

Programs: Online tool allows people to search for information by topic, including children and families; prenatal to age 5; and domestic, sexual and other violence

Mission: “One resource, countless solutions”

History: United Way of Tarrant County is a sponsor of Tarrant Cares. The online tool offers information to families, caregivers and agencies. People can use this resource for solutions and also create personal health records.

MHMR Tarrant County

3840 Hulen St., North Tower, Fort Worth (main campus)

Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-569-4300

Website: mhmrtarrant.org

Programs: MHMR has an umbrella contract with the state to provide home visiting and support services in Tarrant, Denton, Johnson and Ellis counties. They rely on a network of subcontractors that includes the following organizations: All Church Home (ACH), Catholic Charities, Center for Transforming Lives, Denton Community Health Clinic, Denton County MHMR, Easter Seals, Joshua Transportation, Lakes Regional Community Center, Lena Pope, New Day Services, Pecan Valley Centers for Behavioral & Developmental Healthcare, Real Time Transportation, The Learning Center, The Parenting Center and UNT Health Science Center.

Mission: “We change lives.”

History: MHMR of Tarrant County is an “independent unit of government” and the second largest of 39 community mental health centers in Texas. They are located in more than 100 sites across Tarrant County and North Texas. Services include mental health, addiction and substance abuse; intellectual and developmental delays; early childhood intervention; veterans; transportation; and homelessness.

The Women’s Center of Tarrant County

1723 Hemphill St., Fort Worth (main campus)

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday

Phone: 817-927-4040

Website: womenscentertc.org

Programs: Violence prevention and education; Play it Safe! program for children pre-K through high school that teaches them how to reduce risk of sexual and physical abuse.

Mission: “Inspiring, teaching and empowering women and families to overcome violence, crisis and poverty.”

History: The center opened an office in Fort Worth in 1979, offering information and referral, employment assistance and life skills. A rape crisis program was added in 1980. Programs expanded to include child sexual abuse prevention and other services. A satellite office opened in Arlington in 1987.