UT Dallas Institute Uses Data to Improve Child Well-being in North Texas

Dr. Timothy Bray and his team at the Institute for Urban Policy Research collect and evaluate data to help community organizations improve the quality of life for North Texas children.

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By Katherine Corley
Population Health Scholar
University of Texas System
Dual Degree Master's Student in Journalism and Global Policy
UT Austin Moody College of Communication & UT Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs

 
 

Sometimes the baby just keeps crying.

Constant infant crying is the leading trigger for Shaken Baby Syndrome, a form of child abuse that leads to severe brain damage or death in babies and toddlers, according to the Texas Association for the Protection of Children (TexProtects). One solution? Provide first-time, low-income mothers with over two years of in-home nurse visits to teach them about positive parenting behaviors and normal child development—like the common infant phase when babies cry persistently and can’t be soothed—to help new parents make good, informed choices.

This free parent education program—the Nurse-Family Partnership—is just one piece of the child abuse prevention strategy called Project H.O.P.E.S. (Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support), a joint effort between TexProtects and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. Other programs—all free—include Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) classes, which provide new parents with techniques for teaching, disciplining, and protecting their children, and AVANCE, a holistic curriculum focused on parent support and early childhood education for low-income families.

“These programs act as a resource for a first-time parent who might not know what they're up against or how to interpret certain behaviors from their child,” said Dr. Timothy Bray, Director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research at UT Dallas. “The goal of H.O.P.E.S. is to build a coalition of informed parents and prepared professionals to help folks navigate these issues. Because frequently when you look back at child fatalities, simple interventions early on could have avoided them.”

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As a research consultant for organizations working to improve a community’s quality of life, the Institute for Urban Policy Research has partnered with Project H.O.P.E.S. to figure out if its programs are actually improving outcomes for children. Dr. Bray and his team are collecting and analyzing data from six zip codes in Dallas to see if important child maltreatment indicators such as CPS calls and ER visits have decreased in areas offering the H.O.P.E.S. programs.

“The state has asked us to capture data on each of the families that are going through the program to see if we are having an impact,” Dr. Bray said. “It’s still pretty early, but we have seen decreases in risk for child maltreatment with the families who have gone through almost all of the different programs.”

Dr. Bray and his team at the Institute also collaborate with Children’s Health Systems in Dallas to produce the Beyond ABC publication, an in-depth report on children’s healthcare, education, economic security, and safety. The every-other-year report analyzes data on child well-being in six North Texas counties--Dallas, Collin, Cooke, Denton, Fannin and Grayson—and offers recommendations for improving children’s quality of life, such as increasing access to mental health care.

“We help collect the data that makes the case for the different types of services that our kids need,” Dr. Bray said. “Then organizations like Children’s Health or TexProtects go into the community to spread the word and to advocate for the policies that impact our kids' well-being.”

Dr. Bray, also a Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at UT Dallas, currently researches how and why lethal violence varies among neighborhoods. He previously served as an Assistant Bureau Chief with the Illinois State Police, where he headed the strategic and operational research units.

“I wanted to be a police officer, but I couldn't because of my eyesight and I wound up working in the administrative side of law enforcement,” Dr. Bray said. “However, after I finished my Ph.D. in Criminology, I really wanted to help shape the next generation of researchers and professionals.”

Dr. Bray continued: “I’m convinced that the answer to a lot of our pressing problems lies at the intersection of the practitioner community and the research community. What we try to do here at the Institute for Urban Policy Research is take the great work that’s going on here at the university and move it as quickly as possible into the programs, agencies, and organizations that are affecting the lives of kids.”