Lifesaving Projects Grow From “Build Back Better” Ideas
Senate Bill 211 proposes a groundbreaking 100% Family Center One-Stop Service Hub in Doña Ana County to serve as a model for all counties.
In this build back better phase, designing and funding projects to address disruptions in healthcare, schools, campuses, work and social services, we can no longer say with full confidence, “We refer families to services.” This is because, in many communities across the nation, they are inaccessible. We know how tough, if not impossible, it can be for a mom or dad to find local services in rural and urban New Mexico. The list of service barriers includes: service hours that were greatly reduced due to COVID-19, long waiting lists, high costs, inability to qualify for support, and transportation. In some counties, an array of family services never existed in the first place.
Raising kids through the pandemic has made daily life for parents a constant struggle. Schools can close at any moment, child care may evaporate and seeing a counselor to address family trauma could take months. Imagine a mom with a full time job at a hotel who discovers that of the 15 food security programs in her county, only one has hours a working parent could access: a short, few-hour window on a Saturday once a month. There is a lot of bad news for families requiring urgently needed local solutions.
The good news is that our 100% New Mexico initiative activities across the state make ensuring vital family services our number one priority. We have the data to identify needs and illustrate specific service barriers and then, most importantly, invent projects to ensure all families can access the ten vital services for surviving and thriving. To illustrate this process there is no better example than the development of the 100% Family Center project, spearheaded by the Doña Ana Resilience Leaders, based in Las Cruces.
Resilience Leaders consists of ten action teams working in collaboration, each one focused on identifying gaps in a services sector and removing them. The countywide work was started by mayor pro tem Kasandra Gandara three years ago to address adverse childhood experiences, family trauma and social adversity in the form of service barriers. The parent supports action team, headed by Dr. Esther Devall, a national expert on parent education, collaborated with NMSU’s Anna, Age Eight Institute, to develop the proposal for the 100% Family Center.
“Referring families to services” requires that they be accessible
Dr. Devall and her action team were guided by data that shows gaps in services across her county from the 2019 Doña Ana County Resilience Leaders Survey of parents:
Accessing Services for Surviving
- Of those needing medical care, 38% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing behavioral health care, 49% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing food security programs, 33% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing housing security programs, 68% reporting challenges accessing services
- Of those needing transportation, 48% reported challenges accessing services
Accessing Services for Thriving
- Of those needing parent supports/child care services, 31% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing preschool services, 20% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing school-based mental health services, 49% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing youth mentor programs, 62% reported challenges accessing services
- Of those needing job training, 42% reported challenges accessing services
To address challenges, the parent supports action team identified that an effective way to meet the needs of parents was a one-stop service hub for family members, linking them to parent supports, early childhood learning programs, health care, food pantries, job training and other vital services. Some services will be onsite, some web-based and all will be accessible to parents with the support of center navigators. Navigators are experts in local services and have assessed what services are truly available locally, based on local surveying of service organizations. Instead of making a mom drive across a county to ten different services, and spend hours on the phone and online trying to identify help, the 100% Family Center staff can be the one-stop shop where help is provided with working parent-friendly hours across the week. Transport to services and wifi access can also be part of the wrap around service menu.
Not only linking to existing services, but expanding them
The 100% Family Center not only links families to existing services, it also serves as a capacity-building program to increase service access and user-friendliness. 100% Family Center has staff serving as project developers to work with Doña Ana Resilience Leaders to ensure access to medical care, behavioral health care, food security, housing security, transportation, parents supports, early childhood learning, community schools, youth mentors and job training.
New Mexico state senator Bill Soules, who wrote the senate bill to fund the 100% Family Center shared, “This senate bill funds a very timely and urgently needed project that can serve as a model for family supports to strengthen health and self-sufficiency for all 33 counties, which is why I find it such a powerful and innovative approach to building back better–all with health, education and family supports being the priority of the governor.”
How innovative ideas become reality
Dr. Devall’s work developing the proposal is instructive for all those change agents in the state seeking to make this “build back better” phase one that puts the needs of families front and center. She analyzed the data that documented the problem, reviewed the research on family supports, and worked collaboratively with her action team, seeking input on the 100% Family Center proposal from the city manager, county manager, state lawmakers and parent support providers. Mayor pro tem Gandara supported the proposal in all its phases of development.
Dr. Devall shares, “Parenting support is critical to help families raise healthy, responsible children who are ready to learn and ready to work in the future. There is a great need for evidence-based parenting education offered for all families raising children (including foster parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, etc.) from the prenatal period through the end of adolescence. If we are serious about preventing adverse childhood experiences, more investment in parenting supports such as home visiting and parenting education classes is needed.”
Senator Bill Soules remarks, “SB 211 designed to fund the Center is an example of lawmakers and stakeholders, on all levels of government, innovating and uniting for the health, safety and empowerment of all our children, parents and grandparents. The return on investment for a 100% Family Center should be clear.”
The great news is that projects like the 100% Family Center, all designed to ensure vital services for all New Mexicans, are being developed in 100% New Mexico initiatives across the state. Welcome to the era when state, county and city governments are becoming innovation labs and supporting promising solutions to historic challenges. Building back better, to advocates for families, means growing a future where 100% of our children can thrive.
UPDATE: Senate Bill 211 passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.
To learn more about the 100% Family Center meeting the needs of families, download for free the book 100% Community: Ensuring 10 vital services for surviving and thriving.
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The 100% New Mexico initiative is a program of the Anna, Age Eight Institute at New Mexico State University, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit annaageeight.nmsu.edu to learn more.