by DeJanay Booth, Carlsbad Current Argus
June 21, 2016

EDDY COUNTY — For the third year in a row, New Mexico ranked 49 out of 50 states on child well-being, according to the 2016 KIDS COUNT report.

The report, which consists of data from 2014, was released on Tuesday and is based on four categories – economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

New Mexico ranked 48th in economic well-being, 50th in education, 44th in health and 48th in family and community.

New Mexico was ranked 50th in 2013, the report said, and has been at the bottom of the nationwide rankings since the 1990s.

KIDS COUNT Director Amber Wallin of New Mexico Voices for Children said the annual report is intended to address issues in the state and its counties.

“Chances of being healthy are tied to the early years of life,” she said.

According to the KIDS COUNT data center, 21 percent of children in Eddy County lived in poverty in 2015, which was 9 percent lower than the state. The highest was 48 percent in McKinley County and the lowest was 4 percent in Los Alamos County.

In 2014, there were 164 deaths among children (ages 1-14) and teens (15-19), eight of which were in Eddy County. The three counties with the highest child and teen deaths were Bernalillo (34 deaths), San Juan (21 deaths) and Doña Ana (16 deaths).

“It’s important (we) communicate the status of the children,” said Veronica Garcia, the New Mexico Voices for Children executive director.

However, despite the “poor numbers,” officials said they will continue to make sure living in New Mexico becomes easier for families.

Mike Lonergan, a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, said the governor is continuing to work on education and fix its issues.

“Those reforms include ending the failed practice of social promotion, which passes kids into the next grade even when they cannot read,” Lonergan said in an email.

Henry Valera, the communications director for the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department, said there have been recent improvements in education involving Pre-K programs. Valera said the programs have opened up for 3-year-olds, which is a first for the state.

The KIDS COUNT data also showed that in 2014, 42.6 percent of children ages 3 and 4 were enrolled in preschool in Eddy County, which is higher than the state’s 41.1 percent.

“It’ll take everyone in the community to come together and make a difference,” Valera said.

Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department, said the report served as a reminder that education is still an important topic in the state. He said the funding designated by public departments to Pre-K has tripled and enrollment in the program has doubled.

“We’re committed to improving education in our state and helping struggling students learn,” McEntyre said in an emailed statement. “As the report points out, our (New Mexico’s) graduation rate has improved since 2011, and we’ve made gains in math.”

Garcia and Wallin both said they noticed an increase in the number of children covered by health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. The report said 36,000 New Mexican children were not insured in 2014.

Garcia also said the number of teen pregnancies are decreasing. According to the report, the 2014 teen birth rate in New Mexico is 38 per 1,000 – lower than in 2013 (43) and 2008 (61).

Communication Director Kyler Nerison of the New Mexico Human Services Department said they will continue to work with the governor to make Medicaid accessible to residents.

“Now, more New Mexicans than ever before have access to health coverage,” Nerison said in an email. “We’re growing the healthcare safety net to help more people and move more care from costly emergency rooms to primary care practitioners.”

Garcia said the report is a reminder of how far New Mexico has come and how much more they need to work on.

“The quality of life is dependent on the children today,” Garcia said. “Change is within our grasp.”

DeJanay Booth can be reached at 575-628-5548.

Copyright 2016, Carlsbad Current Argus (