by Stewart McClintic, Silver City Daily-Press
June 28, 2016

New Mexico ranks among the worst in the nation for child well-being, according to the most recent KIDS COUNT Data Book report.

The report, released a week ago, shows that New Mexico retained its position at 49th out of 50 states for overall child well-being, rose to 44th in health well-being, fell to 50th in education, and remained the same at 49th for child poverty.

According to a press release issued by New Mexico Voices for Children, a child advocate nonprofit group, the boost to 44th in health well-being is the only bright spot for the state.

“Some of our success is overshadowed by the fact that other states are seeing more significant improvement. Once again, New Mexico is falling behind,” Dr. Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said in the release.

Both political candidates and community leaders in southwest New Mexico believe that there are positive aspects to the area’s work on education, health care and poverty issues, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

State Sen. Howie Morales said these are many of the issues he has focused on in his career and he believes that the state is negatively contributing to these detrimental rankings.

“The policies in place right now are just not working for New Mexicans and New Mexican children. We’ve got to have policies that will prioritize our most important resources, and that’s our children,” Morales said. “Too often political decisions are made for political following instead of what is right in front of us. It’s making things worse.”

Morales said that the state’s improved ranking for health care should be attributed to Obamacare.

“The improvement to the health care, that’s directly a result of the Affordable Care Act and expanded opportunities for people to receive care services,” Morales said. “So you can get an idea of some policies that are working and some aren’t.”

Silver Consolidated Schools Superintendent John Carter, on the other hand, believes that there is some good going on within his district of which area residents should be proud.

“I know we have some good staff — they’re trying to take care of kids. We’re working with all kids to try to do the best thing for them,” Carter said. “We’ve got good kids and good students and I’m sorry that it sometimes comes down to data points — and kids aren’t necessarily data points and numbers. But I do wish we had a few notches above that, at least, and not 50 out of 50.”

New Mexico District 38 House of Representatives Republican candidate Rebecca Dow, of Truth or Consequences, said she is running for office because of precisely these issues.

“Over the last 18 years I’ve been running a nonprofit for homelessness, child abuse and neglect,” Dow said. “The kids that we are serving are graduating, going to the college of their choice, and not coming back to District 38. … People feel the need is more money, but we need to be effective with it.”

Dow’s opponent, Democrat Mary Hotvedt of Silver City, said she is also concerned with the rankings.

“The picture for New Mexico children still remains abysmal under this administration. We need to release Permanent Fund funding in order to ensure adequate food, education and care for children and their families in their earliest years. Without that kind of move, we’re destined to stay as a sad place for families to be,” Hotvedt said. “With increased funding and applying it in smart ways — ways that go to direct services and not just increase overhead in government — we can make a huge difference for our youngest citizens.”

Copyright 2016, Silver City Daily-Press