ALBUQUERQUE — The annual New Mexico KIDS COUNT data book—a project of New Mexico Voices for Children—has some bright spots for child well-being as well as some trouble spots.
Measures of children’s health saw the most gains, with declines in the rates of babies born at a low birthweight, children without health insurance, and teens abusing alcohol and drugs. The teen birth rate has also declined, following a similar national trend.
“These improvements show that public policies do indeed make a positive difference in our children’s lives,” said James Jimenez, Executive Director for NM Voices. “Many fewer children in New Mexico lack health insurance and this can be tied directly to the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), which extended Medicaid coverage to low-income adults. This means more kids are getting well-child check-ups, vaccinations, and help with chronic problems such as asthma.”
But it’s not all good news—especially when it comes to families’ economic well-being.
“We’re seeing more children living in high-poverty areas and living in families where no parent has full-time, year-round employment,” said Amber Wallin, KIDS COUNT Director. “This shouldn’t be surprising, given the state’s stalled economy, but it’s troubling because it can impact other areas of child well-being where we’re doing better,” Wallin said. “We also saw an increase in child and teen deaths in the past year.”
The annual publication, which is supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, presents the most recent state and national data on child well-being in New Mexico in the areas of economic security, education, health, and family and community. Data are presented by county, tribal area, school district, race and ethnicity, and other demographics where available.
This year’s essay focuses on how important it is to make public investments in our children despite the state’s precarious financial situation. The data book is released as part of Celebrating Children and Youth Day, which includes youth speakers talking about the issues they’d like our lawmakers to address. The theme this year―“Forget Me Not”―will be reinforced by youth delivering packets of flower seeds to legislators to remind them that children, like flowers, need optimal conditions in order to grow and thrive.
“If a seed falls in poor soil and does not receive enough sunshine and rain, and then fails to bloom we understand what’s to blame—and it’s not the seed,” Wallin said. “But when children grow up in environments lacking in resources and opportunities, we are all too eager to blame them when they struggle in school and later in life. Like any good gardener, we need to ensure that all our children are receiving the resources they need to thrive and grow into productive and contributing members of society. Nothing less than our state’s future economic well-being depends upon it.”