Our view: Take child abuse fight beyond marketing

Editorial, Santa Fe New Mexican

The notion of all of New Mexico pulling together to help children is worthwhile. Now, there’s a state-run campaign to do that by raising awareness of how to prevent child abuse. The campaign has a catchy name — Pull Together. It’s an effort to bring attention to the dismal reality so many of the state’s children face every day. But let’s not confuse style with substance.

The campaign was launched by the Children, Youth and Families Department the agency charged with helping protect New Mexico children. The goal is to bring together parents and change how people see child abuse, according to CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson. There is a website, www.pulltogether.org, and some people have posted on Twitter, using #PullTogether, as well.

On the website, parents can chat about parenting tips, report child abuse and find out about agency services such as foster care. The site will also list job openings at the agency, an essential considering it has some 12 percent of jobs open. Commercials, featuring such celebrities as fighter Carlos Condit, will lead people to places where they can seek help or advice. As Condit says in his ad: “It’s up to all of us to make New Mexico the best place to be a kid.”

But a website and a catchy campaign won’t do much to help children without New Mexicans making important investments for the well-being of children. Without enough workers, the state can’t investigate abuse cases. Without enough workers, children won’t be placed in foster homes fast enough for their lives to be improved. Without enough workers going out to meet with parents and caregivers, attitudes and habits can’t change. A two-minute commercial or a list of online resources won’t do the job.

What’s more, this media blitz — in a time of scarce resources — is expensive. In February, CYFD entered into a $1.2 million contract with Talweg Creative Inc. to create the ads; that’s a lot of money not going directly to help children. Advocates for children — and we think they’re correct — aren’t persuaded that a marketing campaign is the best step the state can take right now. We’re not opposed to marketing; we just want more money spent on direct services, including hiring staff. Filling jobs should be the first priority, not spending money on TV ads.

Veronica Garcia, with New Mexico Voices for Children, believes the state is underfunding child care, home visitation and social workers. Two of the state’s Catholic leaders — Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces — would have rather seen resources directed toward anti-poverty programs and expanding early childhood education. Wester, too, thinks an online campaign underestimates how many New Mexicans lack access to computers or the Internet.

Monique Jacobson, before being tapped to head CYFD, was director of the state Department of Tourism. She’s smart about branding and putting together campaigns — witness the department’s successful New Mexico True campaign (Talweg Creative won a $7 million contract last April for that campaign). Now, Jacobson is leading the charge to raise awareness about the needs of children in New Mexico.

The problems faced by New Mexico’s children run deep, mired in poverty and generations of struggle. They can’t be fixed even by the slickest marketing campaign, and there’s a strong case to be made that in times of shortage, money should go to fix the substance rather than to show off our style. Yes, New Mexicans should pull together for kids. But let’s start by spending scarce tax dollars wisely on services that directly help children.

Copyright 2016, Santa Fe New Mexican (http://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/editorials/our-view-take-child-abuse-fight-beyond-marketing/article_f7d26260-50f4-5f5f-b5c9-121a53d42800.html)