ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – There is no question just how much of a toll the pandemic has taken on New Mexico’s children. A new national study shows how bad it’s been ranking New Mexico nearly last in the country when it comes to protecting and providing for our kids. Local children advocacy centers said the ranking by Save the Children came as no surprise. The centers say New Mexico already ranked low for child wellbeing, and the pandemic just made it worse.
Children in New Mexico are not doing well right now according to a new report that ranks New Mexico 47 out of 50 on how kids are doing during the pandemic. “The needs are greater because the crisis is deeper,” Allfaiths Children’s Advocacy Center CEO Kristina Ford said.
Ford said they usually see more than 3,000 clients annually. However, this past year with students staying home from school, they are seeing a 30% to 40% decrease in their forensic program where police bring children who are alleged victims or witnesses to violent or sexual crimes. “We think that is largely because children are behind closed doors,” Ford said. “There are fewer reports of abuse and neglect.”
While client numbers are down, their waitlist is going up. It sometimes is 200 kids deep since those they are reaching are in need of more help. “Those who are in our services discharge at a much slower rate than before because children and families need more support,” Ford.
The study looks at factors like hunger, difficulty for families paying bills and lack of tools for remote learning. It highlights the challenges rural communities and people of color face. “The population we serve is mostly Hispanic,” Stacy Clark said.
Clark is the executive director of La Pinon Children’s Advocacy Center that serves southern New Mexico. Clark said the reported abuse they are seeing is extensive. “It is some of the worst abuse our forensic interviewers have ever seen.,” Clark said. “It includes things like strangulation or chronic sexual abuse because perpetrators are in the home, so isolation is detrimental for these children because they don’t have a safe person.”
Ford said as schools reopen, they expect reports to increase as it is often teachers who report neglected or abused kids. “We still need to look at lessons learned from COVID and talk about how we can talk about prevention in a more meaningful and emphasized way,” Ford said.
The senate did pass legislation yesterday to increase broadband in our state, which Ford said would help kids in rural communities with things like remote learning and telehealth appointments. The senate rules committee also approved legislation today that would help fund early childhood education programs.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the governor’s office about the study. They said the state has made great efforts over the last year to mitigate the harm of the pandemic including providing tens of millions of meals to students as well as behavioral health outreach and services.