Policy Recommendations for Positive Adult-Child Interactions

The Dashboard data make clear that too few Texas children are receiving the stable, responsive and positive adult-child interactions they need to be school ready. A young child’s brain develops through everyday experiences and positive interactions with parents and other caregivers.

Unfortunately, young children in Texas are more likely to face child abuse or neglect than the national average – with factors such as a caregiver’s untreated substance use, family domestic violence, and unaddressed mental health challenges contributing to child maltreatment. Texas also ranks nearly last in the nation in terms of children under age six whose families read to them daily. Furthermore, very few eligible Texas families with children under age three are served in home visiting programs that can reduce child abuse and give parents and other caregivers the tools to support early childhood brain development and build positive adult-child relationships.

The clearest example of the important role state leaders play in promoting positive adult-child interactions is in their oversight of Child Protective Services and the state’s foster care system, which are responsible for investigating reports of child maltreatment and placing a child who has been abused or neglected in a safe, stable home respectively. Texas also plays a significant role in child abuse prevention by investing in community-based home visiting programs that prevent child abuse and neglect. Effective state policies on preventing maltreatment, keeping families safely together, and supporting children in foster care have clear implications for early childhood experiences and school readiness: more than half (58 percent) of children entering the state’s foster care system every year are under age six.

While parents or other caregivers are a child’s primary teachers, decisions made by state leaders significantly shape how effectively families can overcome challenges that threaten stable, responsive relationships between children and their families. Policymakers can ensure more parents have the tools and ability to effectively nurture their children’s brain development, focus on engaging activities like reading books together, and better navigate potential stressors in the home. Leaders should pursue the recommendations outlined below, which cover three broad strategies.

Increase access to evidence-based home visiting programs that serve families on a voluntary basis:

  • Increase state investments in Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Prevention and Child Wellbeing (PCW) programs – including Nurse Family Partnership, Texas Home Visiting, HOPES, Helping through Intervention, and  Family Resource Centers. These programs collectively are proven to reduce child maltreatment, improve maternal and child health, and promote positive parent-child interactions. Texas could expand these programs into more areas of Texas, including rural areas, with greater investment. 
  • Expand short-term, universal postpartum home visitation programs, such as Family Connects, by covering them under Medicaid and through state investments. (Learn more here and here.)

Improve access to mental health care for parents and children, substance use services, and parent-skill building supports:

  • Extend Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum so that new mothers can get mental health care and treatment if they suffer from postpartum depression, as well as medical care to stay healthy during the first critical year of a baby’s life. (Learn more here.)
  • Provide funding for Child First in Texas, an early childhood initiative that pairs families with a licensed mental health clinician and a care coordinator for home-based mental health services that support pregnant people and new families with children under age six. The initiative is designed to decrease children’s mental health challenges, decrease child abuse or neglect, and promote safe, healthy, and nurturing parent-child relationships.
  • Increase children’s mental health funding to Local Mental Health Authorities and Local Behavioral Health Authorities to meet the growing demand for mental health services for children. (Learn more here.)
  • Build on the Family Preservation Pilots (created by HB 3041 in 2021) by investing state dollars in evidence-based services offered through the pilots. These services aim to keep families together safely by improving children’s behavioral and emotional functioning, reducing child abuse and neglect, providing stable housing, and more. 
  • Maximize the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) by expanding eligibility to more children and families in need of support — such as families in Family Based Safety Services, children post-adoption, and children who have been reunified with their parents — so families may access effective family preservation services, and the state may begin drawing down federal matching funds for these services.

Promote initiatives proven to encourage positive adult-child interactions and daily reading:

  • Promote clinic-based initiatives, such as Reach Out and Read, so pediatric providers work more closely with caregivers during well-child check-ups to make reading and storytelling part of their daily routines with their young children. 
  • Expand Help Me Grow Texas, which helps local communities connect families with young children to an experienced child development specialist to learn about child development and find local resources and services, including local home visiting programs.
  • Support policies that help families access sufficient household resources to overcome economic hardship, a lack of education, or other stressors threatening stable, nurturing relationships between children and their families. (Learn more here.)