New Research Reports Related to PEI Programming and Messaging

(February 2016) - Prevention and Early Intervention recently completed a project with SUMA Social Marketing to conduct community research across the state. SUMA conducted focus groups throughout the state and reached out to key stakeholders for expert insight. The project focused on three primary topics: (1) Fatherhood: perception of being a good father, participation in family support/parent education services; (2) Military families: needs and perception of prevention services and (3) Safe Sleep: messaging perceptions among key audience groups. A report was generated for each of the 3 topics (located below) summarizing findings and providing PEI recommendations for the future.


The Prevention and Early Intervention Division Expands

“…Preventing poor outcomes is always preferable to the incalculable costs associated with child death or injury or broken homes, the intensive intervention of foster care, and the ongoing effects of trauma on people’s lives.”
 -2014 Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report.

(October 2014) - The goal of child abuse and neglect prevention (to borrow a phrase from the Help for Parents, Hope for Kids campaign) is to “stop abuse before it happens!”

Well, now the DFPS Prevention and Intervention (PEI) program is stepping out on its own, and prevention is stepping to the forefront! Until recently PEI was a part of CPS. Now it’s on its own program with new responsibilities and resources – and reports directly to the Commissioner, just like CPS, APS, CCL, and Statewide Intake. The move will help PEI to do more partnering with Texas communities to ramp up prevention efforts.

Empowering Local Communities

PEI Director Sasha Rasco sees the expanded division working more closely with local communities to promote healthy children and stronger families.

“It’s really about encouraging local communities to make changes that benefit their community and strengthen families,” says Rasco. “While we don’t have the resources to pay for every single service, we can help communities identify problems and work with them to find solutions. In some cases, maybe that means offering seed money or matching funds to encourage change.”

Currently, PEI funds community-based programs throughout the state that support almost 50,000 at-risk families. Services range from crisis counseling to home visiting. PEI also funds public awareness campaigns on child abuse prevention (HelpandHope.org), safe sleep for infants (BabyRoomToBreathe.org), and child-drowning prevention (WatchKidsAroundWater.org).

Rasco gives a great illustration of what prevention is all about.

“If children are drowning in a river and people are furiously spending their energy pulling them out of the river, eventually someone needs to ask why these children going into the river in the first place? Someone needs to go upstream and find out why kids are falling into the current and stop it. Our goal is to reduce the number of families coming into our system by building stronger families through community efforts.”

New Office of Child Safety

Besides moving up the organizational chart, PEI will also add the new Office of Child Safety (OCS). The new office will conduct independent reviews of child abuse and neglect fatalities related to both Child Protective Services and Child Care Licensing.

“The vision of the Office of Child Safety is to have someone looking at the larger trends around child fatalities, ” says Rasco. “This work will inform our prevention efforts going forward, such as the populations we target and the prevention campaigns we conduct.”

The new Office of Child Safety won’t just look at how policy and procedures were followed in a case – but look for root causes so they can be addressed.  It starts with in-depth evaluations of selected cases looking for system-wide problems. When OCS identifies problems, it will provide guidance on the most effective prevention changes.

The office will work closely with other groups across the agency that already review cases such as the Office of Consumer Affairs. However, OCS will be looking for broader trends in child fatality data and compare its findings alongside state and national trends, providing a clearer view of where improvements are needed.

Plus, the office will work more closely with the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and others to share data and information. For example, groups like the Texas Pediatrics Society could benefit from having better access to data to help them improve medical care for Texas children.

PEI already works with the DSHS Child Fatality Review Team, a multi-disciplinary group working with local teams across Texas, who look closely at each preventable death. However, Rasco sees a value in making sure this and other data is more readily available to local communities that need guidance on how to strengthen their community. “There’s already a public health framework there,” says Rasco.

What Changes Can I Expect?

The first thing you may notice is the agency foucusing more on using existing prevention services and partnerships. The Partners in Prevention Conference, organized by PEI, is coming up in October and provides an opportunity for providers and prevention advocates to meet local community partners and hear from experts about the best ways to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect.

Soon, PEI will be hiring staff for the Office of Child Safety and should be fully staffed by next spring.

Some of the first priorities include:

  • Participating on the Federal Commission for the Elimination of Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
  • Supporting the Protect Our Kids Commission.
  • Steering projects relating to child fatalities.
  • Developing a process for presenting transparent, high-level child fatality case reviews.

Having an expanded Prevention and Early Intervention Division that can pull back from the day-to-day crisis, lets us review larger case-trends and more effectively guide our prevention strategy. The newly expanded role and independence of the Prevention and Early Intervention program will give DFPS a better understanding of how to make a greater impact for Texas families.