by DeJanay Booth, Carlsbad Current-Argus
June 16, 2017

New Mexico ranks 49th overall in the country in child well-being, according to a 2017 KIDS Count data book, released this week.

Despite the low ranking, the state did improve slightly within four areas — economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Eddy County, however, struggled to see change.

According to the KIDS Count Data Center’s latest numbers, a 65.6 per 1,000 teen birth rate (ages 16-19) was reported in the county in 2015 — up from 61.5 per 1,000 in 2014.

New Mexico had a 35 per 1,000 teen birth rate in 2015, which decreased from 38 per 1,000 in the prior year.

Child deaths in Eddy County nearly doubled in 2015 from the prior year. The report stated a 2015 child death rate — ages 14 and under — of 79.7 per 100,000 (10 deaths) in the county. In 2014, the death rate was 48.8 per 100,000 (six deaths).

According to the report, accidents, homicides and suicide are leading causes of death among children and teens.

Although New Mexico did see an increase in child deaths the state did have a decrease in teen deaths.

Among the counties improved numbers were a decrease in child poverty levels and the number of students binge drinking.

New Mexico, Carlsbad hoping to improve

New Mexico’s 49th overall ranking did not change from 2016.

However, the state did improve in health from the previous year. In 2016, the state ranked 44th in health overall but raised to 37th this year, followed by Georgia (38th), Texas (39th) and Arizona (40th).

In addition, a majority of indicators of child well-being, such as babies born with a low-birth weight and teens not in school or working, either improved by 1 to 3 percent or didn’t change.

“Improving the quality of life for our children continues to be our number one priority. While it is encouraging that New Mexico has shown improvement in nearly every category of the report since Governor Martinez has taken office, we understand that there is still much work to be done,” said Henry Varela, spokesman for the Children, Youth and Family Department, in an emailed statement.

“That is why we will continue to build upon areas that we’ve been able to improve such as increasing the number of children and families utilizing child care assistance which in turn has increased the number of children being served in high quality child care programs throughout the state,” Varela continued. “By giving families an opportunity to place their children in high quality child care programs we are helping to ensure that New Mexico kids are getting the head start they need to be successful once they start school.”

Despite the small improvements, New Mexico remained 50th in the country in education.

“New Mexico has set a very high standard and exception for our students,” said Carlsbad Municipal Schools acting superintendent Kelli Barta.

Barta said although the state received a low ranking, Carlsbad administrators and teachers are working to provide the education needed for their students.

She said the drive to improve education in Carlsbad not only comes from the staff, but also community businesses and organizations who are contributing to the schools by donating clothes, instructional materials, food and providing internships.

“Kids are first in Carlsbad. I really do think Carlsbad is not a reflection of that ranking,” Barta said. “We’re doing everything we can to overcome that ranking. We’re very blessed to have so many organizations and industries.”

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