ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A University of New Mexico professor is holding a course to help solve the problem of child abuse — a huge issue in New Mexico. The class will be available for all undergraduate students now, no matter their major or minor. For years, agencies across New Mexico have fought to get a grasp on the huge problem we have with child abuse.
“In the Albuquerque area, a number of children lost their lives due to parental and physical discipline,” said Dr. Ryan Kelly, a UNM Associate Professor in Family and Child Studies. “Maltreatment is such a complex thing to understand.”
Child maltreatment includes everything from neglect and lack of food to the more severe like physical and sexual abuse. Dr. Kelly wants to bring awareness of this issue to education.
“I thought, well, they’re doing excellent work and the UNM main campus can also do something. We have an incredible platform here,” said Kelly. “We have a lot of knowledge when it comes to this so my idea was to take a course I’ve already been teaching which is Marriage and Family Relationships, where we go into this topic specifically, in depth.”
Kelly’s course, Marriage and Family Relationships, covers everything from divorce and stepfamilies to unintended teen pregnancies and racial disparities. It places a special emphasis on abuse and neglect in the family, as well as maltreatment, corporal punishment, and sexual assault, all topics that go hand-in-hand. Starting this fall, the class will be a part of the campus’ general education offering, not just for majors or minors in Family and Child Studies.
“Child maltreatment is relevant to all of us, regardless if someone is majoring in engineering or business or architecture,” said Kelly. “Individuals who receive formal education on child development and the prevention of maltreatment are far less likely to commit acts of maltreatment when they have families of their own.”
Albuquerque Police Department Lt. Nicholas Sanders often sees these cases first-hand. He says the more people are educated about it, the better.
“My unit really relies upon the third-party person to recognize signs of neglect or abuse,” said Lt. Sanders who works with APD’s Criminal Investigations Division-Juvenile Section. “Maltreatment includes child general neglect, so this can go to lack of food, this can go to lack of quality education, those are social-based services that families may just not have that capability of getting there and is not necessarily doing a direct negative punishment to a child but the child is suffering because the family is suffering.”
Sanders hopes other institutions like Albuquerque Public Schools and trade schools will adopt similar courses to teach early on, especially for those who may not get this particular opportunity if they don’t go to college. At UNM, Kelly hopes this will inspire students to take on the cause, eventually helping local police departments or CYFD, along with teaching students about how policies can be made or changed to protect children.
“It will hopefully expose a number of students to this field. We need a lot of help,” said Kelly. “We have to address child maltreatment from a number of levels, changes within families, changes within the community, changes within educational settings, changes within religious context.”
Kelly hopes to, down the line, bring in people from various backgrounds to present in the class, as different organizations may respond or research the issue of child maltreatment in different ways. He plans to bring in guests like pediatricians, CYFD, APD officers, and other agencies who will provide a different educational experience for the students taking this class. UNM undergraduate students can now enroll to take Marriage and Family Relationships with Kelly, starting in the Fall 2020 semester.