Amidst the closures and gaps in business as usual, our state, local, and community institutions are grappling with how to keep Texas families safe and healthy. According to the most recent available Census data, more than 1.5 million families in Texas live in poverty. Another 1.3 million families teeter on the edge of poverty, where an unexpected expense, disruption in child care, or job loss could send them spiraling into economic hardship. Many of these families rely on, or will soon rely on, public programs and services to ensure their children’s basic needs are met. As the COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges to every corner of our state, compounding the stress already weighing on low-income families and exacerbating the inequities in our communities, the need for collective action grows. The pandemic has also emphasized the need for cross-sector collaboration between child and family-serving organizations to tend to the needs of the whole child.
CHILD SAFEGUARDING: Families, caretakers, and partners are facing increased levels of isolation, monetary stress, and anxiety, factors that increase risk of abuse and family violence. Schools play a critical role in reporting child abuse, accounting for ~30% of reports to the Texas Department of Family and Protective services (DFPS); reports typically drop over the summer and increase once school reopens. Tips to the DFPS hotline have already dropped from 11,179 weekly in February to 9,344 weekly in March. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reported that for the first time ever, 50% of requests for support sent to their online chat hotline in March were made by minors. For human trafficking survivors, the trauma of physical and sexual abuse creates vulnerabilities that traffickers are adept at exploiting. Traffickers then utilize further trauma and abuse to control their victims. Furthermore, children are spending more time online than ever, while parents struggle to supervise them without childcare, and they are more vulnerable to online sexual exploitation, grooming, cyberbullying, and abuse. Community programs and afterschool activities that used to help parents de-stress and keep children out of harm’s way are no longer an option without significant adaptations.
CHILD CARE / EARLY EDUCATION: 1 in 12 Texas children live in childcare deserts and many families cannot afford to pay for emergency childcare when schools or centers close. Meanwhile, childcare providers that remain open may struggle to stay in business as some parents can no longer afford to payfor care, have difficulty finding appropriate supplies and struggle with new required health practices.
PK-12 EDUCATION: Texas public schools serve over 5.4 million children, with 60.6% classified as economically disadvantaged. As schools move to online learning, districts are working to make sure students do not fall behind and have access to resources to learn. Schools are also a main information hub and resource hub in many communities, so flexibility to respond is essential. With a general decrease in tax revenue, struggling school districts may have to cut wrap-around supports for children.
SUPPORT FOR IMMIGRANT FAMILIES: An estimated 2.6 million New American children live in Texas. Current federal “public charge” policies dissuade documented and undocumented families alike from seeking out necessary care or social services out of fear of being perceived as a public burden. This creates an increased risk for transmission of the virus and puts many of our most vulnerable children further at risk.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS: Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country, and ranks 41st in physician-population ratio. Many rural counties are could be classified as emergency care deserts. Also, not all schools or clinics in Texas have access to full time counselors who support children’s mental health. These factors make Texans uniquely vulnerable. Concerns around health coverage, lack of access to health care, and limited supplies may stop some families from pursuing counseling or receiving necessary medical care.
FOOD INSECURITY: An estimated 1,676,740 children in Texas, or nearly 1 in 4 children (23%), were food insecure before unemployment soared. Many Texas families rely on school meal programs or other food assistance programs such as SNAP or WIC. As quarantine and social distancing practices begin to take a toll on our economy and cause greater job insecurity, these public nutrition programs are more in-demand than ever. School districts, food banks, and other assistance providers are finding innovative ways of serving children and families, however supply may continue to be a problem.
Dr. Bob Sanborn
President & CEO, CHILDREN AT RISK
Dr. Michael Kelly
Vice President of Programs, Paso del Norte Health Foundation
CISO, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas
Dr. Adolfo Santos
Campus Director, Texas A&M Higher Ed Center, McAllen
CEO, Girl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains
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