Quality Public Education
C@R continued its commitment to improving the quality of our public education system and increasing educational opportunities for all students across Texas by producing the 2017 Annual School Rankings, a tool that continues to be instrumental in engaging stakeholders to improve our public education system. As part of this year’s project, C@R re-designed our Texasschoolguide.org website, which provides parents with campus-level data for all schools across the state. In addition, parents can download a Parent Action Guide for their city, which will provide them with information about their school options, how to get involved in their child’s school, and how to support their children through early education and post-secondary education.
C@R launched a new program this year in Houston to provide Latino families with the knowledge and tools they need to secure quality education for their children. The primary goal of this program is to improve the number of quality school seats that Latino children are accessing through the design and launch of a parent empowerment model that could eventually be scaled throughout the state. C@R has identified key community partners to work with to educate Latino parents in Houston about their school options, the information they need to select the right schools for their children, the tools they need to drive improvement at their schools, and the ability to organize and present their concerns and suggestions to policymakers on how their schools can improve.
Early Childhood Education: C@R’s early education team embarked on a new research initiative this year to assess the availability of quality subsidized childcare in Texas, including the Houston area. As a part of this effort, C@R developed a dynamic child care desert map to highlight areas where quality child care options are lacking and led roundtable discussions in nine cities across the state about access to quality child care with child care providers, non-profit organizations, community leaders, school districts and public officials. C@R gathered pertinent data that will be used in the next phase of the project to be rolled out in 2018.
Child Health and Nutrition
Food in Schools: C@R’s Food in Schools team continued to increase access to federally reimbursable meal programs for children in public schools in the 2016-17 school year, and our efforts this past year led to more than 40,313 more students have improved access to federally funded school meals this past school year, which they would not have had before our outreach, both before and afterschool meal programs.
Recess: C@R’s embarked on a School Recess Research and Advocacy project this past summer, the goal of which is to ensure that all school districts in the greater Houston area develop a locally determined school recess policy. C@R has performed a literature review of recess best practices state and nationwide and is in the process of performing both quantitative and qualitative surveys of districts and individual schools in the Greater Houston area, with survey analysis and final report slated to release in Spring 2018.
Demand Reduction: C@R is the Houston coordinator for CEASE (Cities Empowered Against Sexual Exploitation) Network, and has been actively working this past year to deter sex-buyers and end the demand for commercial sex. Pimps and traffickers need buyers for the girls, women and boys they sell, and ending this demand is a crucial element in eliminating human trafficking. Through deterrent ad campaigns using “decoy” ads on websites like Backpage.com, C@R was able to disrupt the buying cycle while it is in process. C@R also placed Google ads that pop up when Houston buyers search for key words such as “escort,” and we strategically employed campaigns on Facebook to reach even more buyers. After Hurricane Harvey hit the region, online ads selling sex doubled. C@R responded within days by increasing our online deterrent strategies. By working to target buyers through a number of avenues, C@R has had contact with numerous potential buyers, deterring them through more than one million interventions.
Project AWESOME (Attorneys Working to End Sexually Oriented Massage Establishments): Project AWESOME is a partnership between C@R and the Office of Harris County Attorney and large civil law firms aimed at shutting down illegal massage parlors. There are over 200 unlicensed massage parlors in Harris County, which are fronts for prostitution/trafficking. Four locations have been closed so far, with more to come.
Training and Education: C@R’s legal team has provided human trafficking training to over 5,000 attorneys, advocates, partners and corporate professionals since 2015. These trainings include an overview of the state and federal legal frameworks, numbers and statistics around the issue, and, most importantly, how to detect and report sex and labor trafficking. C@R also continued our quarterly human trafficking bus tours and has been planning our yearly summit, coming up on November 10th, to help us increase outreach and raise more awareness.
Foster Care: One of the strongest, proven correlations to youth being trafficked is prior involvement with state services, in particular the foster care system and Child Protective Services (CPS). While not every child in foster care is trafficked, most trafficking victims are or were previously in the CPS system. In the summer of 2017, C@R hosted six summer law fellows from top law schools around the country to perform in-depth research on Texas’ foster care reform efforts, and specifically examining what the state is and is not doing to protect children in foster care from trafficking, sexual abuse and child-on-child violence. The final report will be made available at the end of the year.
Parenting and Family Well-Being
C@R continued to increase access to evidence-based parent education by organizing and coordinating Triple-P training for 20 new participants from nine different local organizations. C@R also continued to work with parenting providers previously trained in Triple P to ensure that they continue to offer classes and are supported as they work in the communities that they serve. In addition, C@R hosted quarterly meetings with parenting providers. Attendees to these meetings have the opportunity to network with other local parent education professionals, stay up-to-date on parent education research and policy implications, market their evidence-based classes on our parenting website SmartParents.org, and continue to learn from one another.
In addition to key work around our four issue areas, C@R tracked hundreds of bills over the course of the 85th Legislative Session, and testified or supported over 50 pieces of legislation in committee hearings. C@R passed our Human Trafficking “Omnibus Bill,” a key piece of legislation that made eleven changes to the law, including several requirements such as improved data collection, posting the human trafficking hotline in strip club restrooms, and mandatory anti-trafficking trainings, in addition to changes making it easier for local governments to shut down storefront trafficking operations. Other wins included legislation providing free Pre-K to the children of fallen first responders and establishing teaching certifications for Pre-K to 3rd grade teachers.
C@R also published the 2017-2018 edition of our publication, Growing Up in Houston: Assessing the Quality of Life of Our Children. This book provides a collection of data and graphic representations of more than 75 quality of life indicators impacting children, and provides stakeholders with a tool to help identify the most strategic and pressing areas for intervention, chart new paths, and track progress over time. Over 1,500 copies of the publication have been distributed.
Hurricane Harvey was an extremely destructive natural disaster that has affected the Houston and Texas Gulf Coast communities deeply. 2.9 million children live in the 58 counties devastated by Hurricane Harvey. While a full-recovery from the storm will take years, there is a need for the community to come together and restore children’s fundamental needs for safety, security and access to quality education. The week after the hurricane, C@R convened a wide range of Houston organizations serving children to be part of a coalition that is helping coordinate response and action to ensure that both short-term and long-term solutions are in place to help children recover; and that nonprofits, school districts, government entities and the philanthropic community are not working in silos, but in unison. C@R has been leading what is now the Hurricane Harvey Children’s Recovery Coalition and will continue to do so, in collaboration with Catholic Charities, Collaborative for Children, Houston Food Bank, Mental Health of America, and Texas Children’s Hospital, among others.