Project HOPES Aims to Prevent Child Abuse in Austin

Written by Julia Null Smith, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications

At just three years old, Adele was already a danger to other kids in her daycare class. She was hitting other kids, grabbing toys, and had trouble calming herself down. She was overwhelming staff and requiring too much of their time and energy. She was on the verge of being expelled.

Every day care in Austin has kids like Adele. All too often, young kids who behave with aggression or have difficulty sitting still or focusing are actually responding to trauma and stress at home. Recent research suggests that family trauma can often be mistaken for ADHD. In Adele’s case, it turns out that she had witnessed her father hitting her mother.

So: take a family that’s already under stress. Then take away their child care, which is vital to their ability to leave the house and earn a living. The result: even more stress on the family, and an even higher risk of child abuse.

Adele was lucky, because her mom enrolled in Austin Children’s Services’ Strong Start program. At Strong Start, Adele’s mom learned how to set reasonable expectations and how to discipline effectively, through home visits and parent coaching sessions. In Strong Start’s therapeutic classroom, Adele learned how to control her impulses and follow directions. As the family’s stress level dropped, Adele’s behavior challenges vanished, and she was welcomed back into her full-time day care class. Her mom reports feeling more in control and happier, and Adele is clearly thriving in a home where limits and expectations are clear and consistent.

Now, the evidence-based Strong Start program is the platform for a new DFPS-funded program that will provide services throughout Central Texas to families just like Adele’s. Called Project HOPES (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support), the program will provide intensive home visitation and parent education and coaching services to low-income, at-risk families with children ages 0-5.

Austin Children’s Services will manage and staff the program, along with partners Any Baby Can, SafePlace and CommunitySync. Other community partners will refer families for services, including the Austin and Manor school districts, Communities in Schools, Goodwill, and Avance. Anyone interested in referring a family under stress can contact

Is it possible to calculate the value of a program like Project HOPES? We know that the average case of child abuse carries a lifetime cost (in medical expenses, lost wages, loss of productivity, court and law enforcement costs) of $210,000 for each child. But what about the medical costs from growing up in a household taken over by toxic stress, which has been shown to have long-term ill effects on health? What about schools and child care centers, which require additional security or specialized staff to deal with challenging behaviors? Or the multi-billion-dollar child protective system itself, which is already stretched to its limit?

We know the costs of doing nothing are high, both in dollars and simple human misery. ACS is proud to be spearheading this community-wide effort to prevent child abuse in Central Texas.

Learn more about Project HOPES here.