Let’s stop and ask, where Is New Mexico Going?
With the flurry of elections behind us, we are examining the status quo to provide a guide to a future where New Mexico’s children, students, and families can thrive.
Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello
Ready for a reality check? We deal in data, so we can only tell you about the lives of New Mexicans today, based on our family members’ surveys as well as conversations we are having daily with stakeholders across the state. We have been asking parents and caregiving grandparents about their access to the services for surviving and thriving. Our survey asks if residents need ten services and how challenging it is to access them. Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, from Las Cruces to Española, tell us the barriers to vital services.
To keep this article short, we can tell you that 30% to 50% of survey respondents report struggling to access what we call the five services for surviving: medical care, mental health care, food security programs, housing security support/affordable housing, and transportation to services. If our leaders in public education wonder what the root cause of student low achievement or low graduation rates might be, look no further than the data that reveal students arrive at kindergarten having spent the first five years without easy access to services that most middle and upper-income New Mexicans take for granted.
We know what determines our children’s future
We could write a book on how children and families without access to basic services struggle. In the terminology of the NM Department of Health, those families without access to vital services endure the adverse social determinants of health, living in environments that diminish a person’s capacity to be healthy, educated, job-ready, and able to secure a good-paying job. We could drop about 100 footnotes here to research articles that describe the detrimental consequences of a child growing up without resources.
Our survey also reveals the overall access New Mexicans have to what we like to call the five services for thriving, including parent supports, early childhood learning programs, community schools, youth mentorship, and job training. Just as with our services for surviving, parents struggle to access the services shown to create safe and self-sufficient households. Barriers are cost, lack of friendly hours for working parents, lack of transportation, or the complete lack of local services.
In the “why isn’t this fixed yet” category
The NM Depart of Health Survey reveals that one out of four New Mexicans endure four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), with the most common being physical abuse, emotional abuse, and living with adults with substance use disorders. We have epidemic rates of child abuse and neglect that are diminishing the lives of our children and students, with ACEs-related trauma leading to substance use disorders and a host of costly challenges.
Now the good news…
We are not doing business as usual, which would be reviewing data on the hardships children endure and putting the report on a shelf to gather dust. The Anna, Age Eight Institute’s 100% New Mexico initiative is an activist, result-focused statewide strategy that turns data into solutions. We are working in 15 counties, including our largest Bernalillo and Doña Ana. Quite frankly, we are literally overwhelmed by the interest in our initiative.
We have analyzed the survey data, reviewed the local challenges, and are working with local stakeholders, including state lawmakers, city and county lawmakers, and school board members, to organize into action teams. You can learn all about our 100% New Mexico initiative, including its mission, goals, activities, directory to services, mural project, books, a framework for change, evaluation, regional summits, and research guiding this groundbreaking strategy.
Where do we go now? (Three things)
We go where no state has ever gone, committing to remove the barriers to vital services across all rural and urban towns, cities, and counties in New Mexico. (And we have a three-year head start on 49 other states.)
- We embrace the goal of ending service barriers. We are transforming all adverse social determinants of health into positive ones, meaning every parent has access to the ten vital services for surviving and thriving. We are working to align our work with health councils and all coalitions focused on health equity and safety.
- We create 100% Family Centers: One-stop Service Hubs. These centers mean parents and kids in each county have a safe place to connect with navigators to services and connect in timely ways to healthcare and educational support.
- We transform our schools into community schools. With the community school, we can support every student and school community member, embracing the diversity that includes different languages, races, heritages, and socio-economic classes. We learn from a troubled history to create a future that’s inclusive. We improve academics, job readiness, and build the capacity of students and their families to navigate a complex society.
Join the evolution
We have the plan. We have the strategies. We are currently in motion with amazing and inspiring champions across the entire state. All we need now are you and your colleagues, neighbors, and friends of all ages who believe that 100% of New Mexican children, students, and families can thrive, united with a shared vision.
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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.