New mothers should not have to handle it alone

Published 11:14 am Friday, May 10, 2019

Six Mother’s Days have passed since I’ve been with TexProtects, the Texas chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America. All were meaningful because mothers are central to our mission, but this one deepened my perspective – it’s my first as a mother.

In our efforts to prevent trauma from abuse and neglect, TexProtects promotes and builds effective policies and programs helping new mothers and families deal with the life-changing stresses that come with newborns and young children.

Now, through seemingly never-ending late-night feedings, cries you just can’t soothe and frantic internet searches looking for answers to unanticipated questions, I understand how crucial this is. This precious little gift is a great responsibility that would be difficult to handle alone.

I am fortunate and grateful to have my husband at my side every step of the way, family nearby, a supportive church, steady income and paid leave, and good health during my life’s most meaningful and joyful, yet challenging experience. I spent years meticulously planning for this moment, including a wealth of knowledge gleaned from my career.

I thought I was prepared.

These first weeks of my baby’s life have shown me how fortunate I am. The resources and supports shown to me during this transition are not something I take for granted because I know there are many new mothers across Texas in very different circumstances.

Some are very young. Many are alone – maybe kicked out of their homes or fleeing from an abusive situation. Some are struggling with postpartum depression or mental illness or fighting their way out of addiction. They may lack confidence, parenting knowledge, or reliable relationships to help, especially if their own parents abused or neglected them.

Abuse and neglect are cyclical. These mothers’ situations do not predetermine that their children will be abused or neglected – but they dramatically raise the odds. Helping these mothers is key to breaking that cycle.

One of the best ways to do this is through evidence-based home visiting programs. These are nonprofit programs in the community, in which a family with newborns or young children can invite a nurse, social worker or other trained professionals into the home to provide support and make referrals when needed.

Home visiting has proven benefits: fewer pregnancy complications; reduced incidences of domestic violence, child maltreatment, and interaction with the judicial system; better educational and health outcomes (both for the parent and child); and a greater likelihood that the parent(s) will become or remain employed. In other words – stronger, more resilient, self-sufficient families.

The programs have another beneficiary – taxpayers. Helping these families avoid tragic situations and stay out of the Child Protective Services and foster care systems relieves pressure on the emergency services, judicial, health, and education systems.

In the current Texas Legislative session, which ends May 27, the competing House and Senate versions of the proposed Fiscal Years 2020-21 budget both have very modest increases in state investments in home visiting – but not nearly enough to substantially increase the number of families served.

Of 423,000 Texas families, we estimate could benefit from home visiting, having young children with multiple risk factors, Texas currently can serve only about 15,000.

The actual need is much greater. On paper, I may not look like I need home visiting, but following my son’s birth, I most certainly did. All new mothers could use some help.

With the $30.5 million legislative investment increase requested by TexProtects, we could help another 3,600 families. Home visiting programs have demonstrated returns ranging from $1.26 to $8.08 per dollar invested – failure to reach those families means lives lost and tax savings missed.

Please urge lawmakers negotiating the final budget bill to substantially increase home visiting investments. Mother’s Day shouldn’t be a reminder of traumatic childhoods or maternal inadequacies. Help us cement Mother’s Day as a celebration of strong families and abundant love for our children.

Sophie Phillips is CEO of TexProtects – Champions for Safe Children.