Austin Children’s Services (ACS – formerly Austin Children’s Shelter) is taking the lead role in a major evidence-based child abuse prevention program in Travis County called Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support). Lead funding of $1.8 million over 14 months from the Texas Department Health and Human Services will provide intensive home visitation and parent education to 574 at-risk families with children ages 0-5.
Project HOPES is a collaborative effort of ACS’ Strong Start program, SafePlace, Any Baby Can and CommunitySync. Organizations throughout the Austin community, including Austin and Manor school districts, Communities in Schools, Goodwill, Avance, and others, will refer families to Project HOPES. Parents will be able to receive a combination of home visits by trained parent-child specialists, access to other community services, and ongoing support groups, coaching sessions and classes.
“We are eager to bring these life-saving services to families in Central Texas who need them desperately,” explained Kelly White, CEO of Austin Children’s Services. “Families under stress can be very dangerous places for young children, and the programs and services we’ll be providing through Project HOPES have been proven to reduce stress and keep kids safe.”
“What we’ve learned through Strong Start is that parents who have a history of abuse in their own lives often don’t know how to respond to their kids. They know they don’t want to repeat their parents’ mistakes, but they don’t know what to do instead,” explains Lori Seeds-Martin, Director of Strong Start. “When we teach parenting techniques and tools that work, the stress level in the entire family drops. The parents feel more in control and the kids feel less anxiety.”
The goal of the program is to reach 574 families over the next 14 months. “Studies have shown that each non-fatal case of child abuse carries a lifetime cost to society of more than $210,000,” says White. “Those are costs that get spent on medical services, police, the judicial system, the child welfare system, and the prison system – all those systems that respond after the fact. So not only do programs like this actually save money in the long run, but the ripple effect of kids growing up in homes that are happy and stable instead of insecure and dangerous is truly incalculable.”
Individuals and organizations throughout the Austin community can refer families under stress to Project HOPES by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.