The Honorable Darlene Byrne recently wrote an op-ed for the Statesman on the crisis in the Texas foster care system. In it she called upon members of the public to help, encouraging them to “call upon our legislators and other state leaders to invest in programs that keep kids out of foster care or shorten their stays in out-of-home care. These include mental health services for children and their parents, parent education such as home-visiting programs, quality drug treatment, educational support for children and families, affordable housing, a robust and diverse transportation system and family nutrition.”
We should call upon our leaders to invest in these programs, but we can also work within our own community to make sure these programs exist, that people know about them, and that people can get to and take advantage of them.
Start by finding out what services are offered or what’s missing in your community. The Child Welfare Information Gateway includes home visiting, Early Childhood and Child Care Services, parent education, parent support groups, respite care, substance abuse and mental health supports in its list of child abuse prevention programs. Are any of these offered in your community? If something’s missing, look into where it is offered and who offers it. Check with nonprofits and community organizations in the area. Ask if you can help get a satellite program started in your local community center, library or church.
If parenting education is available in your area, do parents (or soon-to-be parents) know about it and attend? If you can’t get actual classes in place, build an informal support group for parents and invite expert guests to come in and talk to the group about child development, nutrition and more. Implement a parent-mentor program where new parents can build a relationship with a more experienced parent or even a grandparent who can offer knowledge and support in times of need.
Make sure that affordable, healthy food is accessible in your neighborhood. According to the Austin Office of Sustainability 2015 State of the Food System Report, there are 5 Austin zip codes with no grocery store, 25% of the children in Austin are food insecure, and Texas has the lowest number of farmers markets per capita in the country. Getting a farmers market or farmstand set up in a neighborhood without easy access to fresh food could help. Farmers markets can apply to accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). If the market is open at times and days that are accessible to the population, this can help tremendously with food struggles that many families face.
And the same goes for the rest of the preventative programs referenced by Judge Byrne and the Child Welfare Information Gateway. We can find out what’s available and what isn’t, work to fill those gaps, and then spread the word. Let people know this is an offering for the whole community and, again, work to change that conversation so people feel open and not shameful about taking advantage of any of these services.
And if your neighborhood is in good shape, check out the neighborhood to the north, south, east or west of yours. Encourage your friends in other parts of the community to assess their own neighborhood and take action. Together we can build supportive communities and stronger, healthier families.
Prevention April 2016