New Mexico’s 50th ranking in child well-being is the result of a decade of austerity due to choices lawmakers made during the last recession. In 2019 and early 2020, Lawmakers began to put the state on the right path for our kids. The pandemic and current recession do not need to derail us.
The past decade of austerity has been hard on New Mexico’s children. Still, we are optimistic about the future because we believe in the strength and resiliency of New Mexico’s families. We know we can build stronger communities and support more resilient families and children so that they can thrive. But we can only build a stronger New Mexico if our policymakers are willing to provide the revenue we need to make these investments.
This year’s conference Childhood Trauma: From Symptoms to Systems Change, will take a hard look at ACEs – what causes them, what can be done to prevent them, and how we can promote resiliency. We will look at the importance of building trauma-informed practices throughout our agencies and organizations.
This is a perilous moment for New Mexico’s children. There’s no getting around it. Yet the future is not predetermined for kids in New Mexico. This state’s leaders can be inspired by this moment to do better by its children. They can choose to collaborate inclusively and act boldly and swiftly. That’s what it will take — both to position the state well for the 2020 census and to give children a better chance to thrive.
Given the many challenges faced by our children, New Mexico should be making whatever investments are necessary to ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive and achieve success. Instead, over the last decade New Mexico has made some of the deepest cuts to K-12 education in the country. While some funding was restored during the 2018 legislative session, we are still far behind where we should be on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis.
When it comes to the census, it pays to be counted. The next big census is less than three years away, and a lot is at stake for New Mexico. Besides being used to determine voting districts, data from the 2020 census will translate to almost $3,000 coming into the state per person, per year for the next decade.
Diana was nervous as she spoke to the nearly 400 people gathered at our 5th annual KIDS COUNT Conference. As part of the panel discussion on women’s economic security and child well-being, Diana shared her frustration when, after a decade of working in the early education field and rising to the level of assistant director, she was still earning minimum wage. Her only raises, she said, came from changes in minimum wage laws. But this wasn’t the part of her story that I found most powerful. What really stuck with me was when she told us about having to become a single parent after surviving a domestic violence attack.
It's always gratifying when we can link a good outcome directly to a specific public policy--as we can in this case. We can also often predict a poor outcome when a bad decision is made. If we're smart, we'll use that knowledge to make better decisions. In this case, however, some lawmakers insisted on making a bad decision anyway.
At our recent Kids Count Conference, I asked the room of nearly 400 attendees to raise their hands if they had ever spent money on activities such as music lessons, team sports, preschool or a tutor for a child or grandchild. Then I asked if any of them would characterize that spending as “throwing money at the problem.”
Every child deserves access to the opportunities that will help them succeed. But in New Mexico--which ranks next-to-last in the nation for child well-being--too many families lack the resources we all depend upon to raise strong, healthy children. While our high rate of child poverty may seem like an insurmountable problem, it is one we can effectively address. It will take a coordinated effort and--yes--an investment of public resources, but the end result would benefit the state as a whole.