by Winthrop Quigley, Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico is a tough place to be a child.

We did not need the expression of some fool’s road rage in the form of the senseless shooting death of Lilly Garcia last month to tell us that. The data are abundant.

A state Health Department report published last year found that from 2010 to 2012, injuries caused 69 percent of the deaths among children a year old or older in New Mexico.

The rate of child-injury deaths among children is 50 percent higher in New Mexico than in the nation as a whole.

Homicide was the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths among children from birth through age 9. Suicide was the second-leading cause of injury-related death among kids ages 10 through 17, and homicide was the third-leading cause of injury death among that age group. (Suffocation is the leading cause of injury death among infants. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of injury death among kids ages 1 through 17.)

From 2010 through 2012, the number of New Mexico children who died after being intentionally injured was almost twice the rate nationally. Among our neighbors, New Mexico’s rate of 7.1 intentional-injury deaths of children per 100,000 population was highest, by far. Oklahoma was next, with a 5.3 deaths per 100,000 rate. Arizona and Colorado were at 4.2, Texas was at 3.4, and Utah was at 3.2.

There were 37 child homicides in New Mexico from 2010 through 2012. A firearm was responsible for 14 of those deaths, and child abuse accounted for 23 of the homicide deaths.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count report has ranked New Mexico either last or next-to-last among the 50 states in child well-being for the past three years. The foundation found that:

• 16 percent of our children live in unsafe communities, as defined by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Nationally, 13 percent of children live in unsafe communities.

• 2 percent are confirmed as victims of child abuse. That’s almost 5,000 children. Fewer than 1 percent of all the country’s children are confirmed abuse victims.

• 30 percent live in poverty; 22 percent of the nation’s children live in poverty.

• 63 percent of our kids are born to mothers who received no prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy.

• 12 percent are born to teenage mothers. About 7 percent of the nation’s children are born to teenage mothers.

In 2013, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness tried to determine how many homeless people live in New Mexico by having volunteers find as many homeless people as they could on a day in January. They counted 2,819, which is undoubtedly too few, because it’s difficult to find every homeless person. Of that number, 26 percent were children.

Feeding America, which supports food banks nationwide, for the past two years ranked New Mexico as the worst state in the nation for child hunger.

The state Children, Youth and Families Department says that on any given day, 2,500 children need foster care in New Mexico.

Yet, despite all of this, there are some signs of improvement.

New Mexico First this week released a summary of education and health status and of water and energy resources. It reported that on a number of fronts our state is not losing ground, but is in fact gaining.

More kids are enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs. Math proficiency among schoolchildren improved from 2003 through 2013. Science, technology, engineering and math graduation rates are improving in New Mexico’s colleges and universities. Childhood immunization rates have improved, and median household income is up. The rate of entrepreneurial activity exceeds that of our neighboring states.

The report lists dozens of reforms our state has implemented over the past few years. The Legislature has passed a number of bills to increase the number of teachers in the schools and educational programs for our youngest children. Medicaid has been reformed. The state has implemented programs to increase the amount of goods we export to other countries.

More important, we know, or can easily find out, what to do about several of our problems. The Health Department lists a number of steps that can be taken to reduce injuries to children, including providing social support to at-risk families and training parents on safe gun storage. Former North Carolina Gov. James Hunt was at New Mexico State University’s Domenici Public Policy Conference in September to describe how his state improved its economy by improving education. The Casey Foundation’s business is to help states help their kids.

As New Mexico First put it, our state has “no scarcity in courage, resilience, generosity or inventiveness. We are rich in natural resources and the deeply held wisdom of many cultures. If we believe we can make our state stronger, we will.”

I’d like readers to share some of that wisdom. How do we make New Mexico a better place for our children? Shoot me an email, would you?

Copyright 2015, Albuquerque Journal