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How Family & Protective Services Has Shifted Focus to Prevention

Joy Diaz/Texas Standard
New parents and trainers meet for Prevention and Early Intervention training in San Marcos earlier this week.

From Texas Standard:

There's a new acronym Texans may want to memorize – PEI, or Prevention and Early Intervention. Instead of sending kids into foster care, the state is now aiming to prevent abuse and neglect altogether.

All the parents listening in: have you ever felt like you're not doing a good job?

"When the sheriff shows up at the front of your house and delivers your son," Stan Hemlyn says, "you're like Lord have mercy!"


Stan Hemlyn, from Victoria, Texas, says his son is now a grown man – successful, by the way – but at the time of the incident with the sheriff his son was 16 and Hemlyn says parenting him was really tough. So tough in fact that it may have been tempting for Hemlyn to hurt his son in an effort to correct him, and it may have been easy for that to turn into abuse.

I met Stan Hemlyn at a community meeting with Texas Prevention and Early Intervention officials going around the state telling anyone who will listen that PEI is a relatively new division of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The PEI team has even made commercials to explain their goals. The images show a child drawing on the wall, another one dropping the remote control in a fish tank.

Sasha Rasco from PEI  says while of course most parents love their children, not all know how to rear a child respectfully.

"You need to know how to love a child to love them," Rasco says. 

Rasco also says we need to get one truth out in the open - every parent struggles. But some parents get help. Wealthier families can afford to hire life coaches or pay professionals for advice.

PEI wants to be that life coach for parents regardless of income and to remove the stigma of asking for help

"We want it to become sort of normal," Rasco says, "just like going to a birthing class."

Laura, from San Antonio, is what she calls a "rookie foster parent."

Laura's relationship with her foster child is so new, she doesn't want anyone to recognize her and thus expose her child to be recognized as well. So she didn't want share her last name.

Laura says it's hard to believe Texas has done foster care through CPS for many years and no one ever thought about really implementing a preventive approach before.

"One of the things that was really interesting just in going through the licensing process was – having the realization that Wow, I've never had a child of my own," she says, "and I'm going through this training that is a pretty significant time investment and that any parent can go ahead an have a child without any training!"

Now, the kind of training Laura had will be available. With a budget of close to $55 million for this year alone, PEI will focus on providing training to parents of infants and toddlers, as well as parents of adolescents.

The program is still a work in progress , which is why the PEI folks are traveling the state in March with their message. They want people like Laura, Stan Hemlyn and others to shape the program. PEI will be in the Gulf Coast on March 8, North Texas on March 10, West Texas on March 22 and the Panhandle on March 24.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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