As part of opening day at the 2019 New Mexico Legislature, the state's Voices for Children group will highlight its annual New Mexico KIDS COUNT Data Book. Deputy Director Amber Wallin said there have been improvements in teen birth rates, increased rates of kids covered by insurance, higher preschool enrollment and reduced child poverty. But the state's dead-last ranking for child well-being reported last summer means lawmakers have more work to do.
A new report on child welfare offers a deeper look at some grim statistics for New Mexico, which fell to last in the nation last year on a key state-by-state assessment of the well-being of children and families. “This is the time to go bold or go home,” says the 2018 New Mexico Kids Count Data Book, scheduled for release Tuesday.
“Although we saw improvement in child poverty, we’re still ranked near the bottom of the nation because other states saw larger improvements,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which produces the annual data book.
Evidence-based programs such as home visiting, domestic violence and teen pregnancy prevention programs, fully staffing child protective services, a higher minimum wage and paid family leave can become “generational interrupters” to end New Mexico’s cycle of poverty. “We’re at a crossroads as a state. We’ve had problems. Now is the time to rewrite that story,” Wallin said.
Many mental health experts think childhood trauma is one of the most urgent public health challenges in the country. Lori Martinez, executive director of Ngage New Mexico, said a recent lawsuit filed against the state's under-funded Children, Youth and Families Department demonstrates how dire the situation is for many children - and raising awareness is critical. "When we're talking about childhood trauma, we want to identify the ways that trauma affects us as individuals, and also as a society, on a daily basis,” Martinez said.
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.
Amber Wallin, deputy director of New Mexico Voices for Children, says the 50-state report shows the national average of young parents is 10 percent, but in New Mexico, it's 16 percent. "Those young people are facing the same challenges that all young people are facing, things like finishing high school or maybe going into college, getting their first jobs, learning how to manage money and increase their earning potential," she points out. Her organization, which includes New Mexico Kids Count, maintains one way to improve outcomes for young parent families is to increase home-visiting programs and coaching for first-time parents.
Pediatric society president Brian Etheridge said it’s a resource for voters to hear from candidates on more detailed questions. "What we're trying to do is draw attention to various issues that obviously affect children," Etheridge said.
“Unfortunately, children are not necessarily a topic of conversation when it comes to elections. People talk about jobs and the economy, which are all very important to child well-being, but there are other issues and we wanted to get some of those out there,” said Sharon Kayne, communications director for NM Voices.