SAN ANTONIO – Alternative Response, or AR, a program already used in other states and elsewhere in Texas, now offers a more flexible approach to some cases of child abuse or neglect in Bexar County.
A video on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' website says, “It’s not an investigation. It’s social work.”
Nancy Velez, an AR specialist with Child Protective Services, said the criteria call for moderate- to low-risk cases involving children over the age of 5.
Although the program still deals with difficult issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse, Velez said there is no disposition or decisions made about the allegations.
Velez said knowing AR’s approach is nonjudgmental, families don’t need to be afraid of Child Protective Services.
Initially, when parents are contacted by CPS, Velez said they’re defensive and then skeptical about what AR is trying to do.
“As they go through the process, they’re turned around and they love it,” Velez said. “They’re asking us back.”
Velez said families are proud of the goals they set for themselves.
“It’s nothing we’re dictating. We’re there to just facilitate,” Velez said.
Velez said that first phone call helps set the tone by offering to visit with them in their living room or wherever they feel most comfortable. Children themselves can be there, along with other family members or friends or whoever the parents want to join them.
Velez said when she returns from a family meeting, it’s often a cause for celebration to hear how much more open they are, including the children. In earning the family’s trust, Velez said they’re more willing to voice how they really feel, leading to what she calls “aha” moments that can lead to real breakthroughs in their relationships.
She said there are weekly follow-up visits. Then after the case is closed, families are encouraged to call their caseworkers.
Velez said she’s often told her families: “'If you need help with getting resources or if they need to vent about something, call me.' When they find out that no one is going to get into trouble, that we’re here to help, that’s when they let their guard down.”