by Sylvia Ulloa, New Mexico In Depth
Feb. 13, 2018

Child wellbeing advocates pushing to expand childhood programs  argue that New Mexico’s children are marinating in a stew of toxic stress that not only affects their health, but also underlies the state’s poor educational outcomes.

This week, they got data to support their contention. A new report from the nonprofit Child Trends, using data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, found that New Mexico has some of the highest rates of children suffering from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It tied with Arizona for having 18 percent of children from birth to age 17 with three or more ACEs. The national rate for three or more ACEs is 11 percent.

“Children are resilient, and with strong support systems and attentive families, they can often overcome the challenges of having one adverse childhood experience,” said Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children, a child advocacy organization. “But it’s the cumulative effects of several ACEs that are most concerning, and that’s where New Mexico fares poorly.”

Experiencing three or more ACEs has been shown to increase the risk for alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, depression, suicide attempts, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and poor academic achievement, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Kaiser ACE Study, one of the earliest studies on adverse childhood experiences.

Allen Sanchez, CEO for CHI St. Joseph’s Children, which provides free home visiting services in New Mexico, testified last week in front of the Senate Education Committee in support of a resolution that would take an extra 1 percent distribution from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education programs, including home visiting.

“If a child is in the arms of a calm person, there’s no toxic stress. But if the child is in the arms of parents or other family members that are in crisis, then the stress is passed from the parent to the child,” Sanchez said. “So early childhood intervention is about the toxic stress.”

Trained home visitors can help parents mitigate toxic stress and prevent ACEs by screening mothers for postpartum depression, teaching parents about child development and giving them tools for dealing with typical parenting frustrations — such as a baby who won’t stop crying. And home visitors also connect families with community and state programs and services such as food banks, food stamps and Medicaid.

The constitutional amendment to pay for early childhood funding, HJR 1, co-sponsored by Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Javier Martinez, Democrats from Albuquerque, passed the House and on Friday the Senate Education Committee on a 5-3 party line vote, but it is still awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee with just two more days left in the session.

“We’ll be evaluating it (this) week to see what else we’ll be hearing,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith. “You don’t have the votes right now.”

Eight ACEs

The National Survey of Children’s Health asked parents if their children had experienced any of the following adverse childhood experiences:

  1. Lived with a parent or guardian who became divorced or separated
  2. Lived with a parent or guardian who died
  3. Lived with a parent or guardian who served time in jail or prison
  4. Lived with anyone who was mentally ill or suicidal, or severely depressed for more than a couple of weeks
  5. Lived with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs
  6. Witnessed a parent, guardian, or other adult in the household behaving violently toward another (e.g., slapping, hitting, kicking, punching, or beating each other up)
  7. Been the victim of violence or witnessed any violence in his or her neighborhood
  8. Experienced economic hardship “somewhat often” or “very often” (i.e., the family found it hard to cover costs of food and housing)

Curious about your own ACE score? An interesting widget created by NPR lets you take the ACE Quiz.

Copyright 2018, New Mexico In Depth (