Program Hopes To Prevent Child Abuse By Pouring Resources Into Poor Neighborhoods | KERA News

Program Hopes To Prevent Child Abuse By Pouring Resources Into Poor Neighborhoods

May 24, 2016

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, kids living in a family that makes $15,000 a year are 22 times more likely to be abused than children in a family making just $30,000.

The United Way of Metropolitan Dallas just received a $3.4 million grant to launch a program in June that’s focused on preventing abuse.

Cindy Hernandez is almost three-- her pigtails bounce happily as she searches through a Doc McStuffins picture book.

Cindy, her father David and her mother Maria Sainz are working with a parent educator, through the nonprofit ChildCare Group. These twice-a-month home visits are part of a program to help low income families.

Seeking Out Support

Maria Sainz, her daughter Cindy and her husband David Hernandez reading together.
Credit Courtney Collins / KERA news

Maria and David signed up before Cindy was even born—learning about prenatal health, caring for an infant, and later—how to raise a rambunctious toddler.

Home visits include lots of interactive play. David says parent education has been a gift for his family.

“We do love our daughter but sometimes we need to know what kind of system we need to follow for us to understand what can we do, and why we need to do it that way,” he says.

Becoming a parent can be scary, especially if you don’t have family nearby to help or much money to spare.

This ChildCare Group program also helps families with social services—like signing up for Medicaid, getting food assistance, finding transportation. Maria says with a small child in the house, that kind of support goes a long way.

“We wasn’t able to have a lot of resources until I know about this program,” she says.

Wanting More For Their Child

Parent educator Amanda Eastwood has been working with this family for three years now.

“They wanted to provide and give their child the best that they can and part of that is just learning more,” she says. “And finding out more parent education, more child development.

This model—giving low income families financial support while helping parents manage new responsibilities—is working.

The United Way’s new grant will help 400 Dallas families in a similar way. The program is called HOPES. Its primary goal is preventing abuse, coming at a time when the child welfare system in Texas is under fire and the state has seen an increase in deaths related to abuse and neglect.

HOPES will target zip codes in southwest Dallas with a lot of poverty and a lot of children.

Early Intervention Leading To Prevention

United Way Chief Operating Officer Susan Hoff says the idea behind the program is pretty simple. With an early start case workers can help parents cope with the often exhausting world of raising a young child.

“Families who are in desperate need, parents who don’t have the support or the education or the connections they need oftentimes to be resources for their kids,” Hoff says.

Home visits help low income parents feel less alone. Teaching them what to expect as a child grows is another powerful tool.

And helping with social services—like food stamps and housing assistance-- can be life-changing. Hoff says families crushed by financial anxiety are at a higher risk for abuse.

“The level of frustration of being poor and not having the things you need just to get day to day can cause somebody take that anger out on a child,” says Hoff.

Keeping An Eye On At-Risk Families

Which is why the United Way is trying to stop some cases of abuse before they start. Because home visits are part of the package, parent educators are trained to watch for things like post-partum depression and unsafe sleeping practices.

This program might not change world. But for the families involved, it might change theirs.