UT researchers: Texas child maltreatment prevention programs working

UT researchers found that Texas child abuse prevention programs are seeing a high success rate.
UT researchers found that Texas child abuse prevention programs are seeing a high success rate.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Texas lawmakers continue their efforts this year to overhaul the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that a certain type of DFPS program is having success at a surprising rate.

The Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing at UT Austin studied 137,068 caregivers who received prevention services between 2008 and 2015. These families received Prevention and Early Intervention services which are community-based programs given to at-risk families to help with identifying and preventing child abuse. The UT researchers found that 97 percent of those families did not experience cases of child mistreatment after they received prevention services.

“It’s a pleasant surprise to see that these families are able to stay out of the system and most importantly that no children were confirmed as cases of child maltreatment in that 97 percent,” said Monica Faulkner, Ph.D., the institute’s director.

“From our estimation, it appears that child maltreatment prevention works and it appears to be a really good investment for the state,” Faulkner said. “Because when we have a child that’s been abused, that costs society, that costs the child, so the costs to the child are their mental health — their well-being over time.”

According to DFPS records, more than 62,000 families received Prevention and Early Intervention Services in 2016, an increase of 23 percent from the past fiscal year. More than 95 percent of youth who were involved in PEI services in 2016 did not become involved with the juvenile justice system, DFPS records state.

The Center for Child Protection in Austin works with law enforcement and agencies like DFPS to conduct forensic interviews and provide support for children who are victims of crime and abuse. Therapy team members at the center already use a prevention based approach, trying to work with families to curb abuse.

“Focusing on prevention absolutely works, it’s providing our community with education, it’s getting people to talk about it,” said Tara Powdrill with the Center for Child Protection. Powdrill explained that while most of the center’s work doesn’t focus specifically on state PEI programs, their own prevention-based programs make an impact in curbing child abuse too.

Faulkner added that while she hopes that lawmakers pay attention to the research showing the benefits of child abuse prevention programs, she also wants politicians to invest their dollars in helping families build healthier lives. She added that drug and mental health problems are interwoven with many of the families with patterns of child abuse.

“And that is impacting all these other social problems that we see and we need to start funding (drug treatment and mental health services) and I don’t think with our legislative session and the budget we’ve really done a good job with that,” she said.

Faulkner thinks the best strategy is to fund child abuse prevention programs as well as other programs for substance abuse treatment and mental health.

You can find out more about PEI programs at helpandhope.org. 

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