New Mexico Child Welfare Ranks 50th, Demonstrates Varied Progress in Multiple Areas

For the third consecutive year, New Mexico ranks last in the nation for child welfare, as reported in the 2024 KIDS Count Data Book unveiled this week.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation authors this comprehensive assessment for every state, focusing on family and community, educational performance, overall health, and economic conditions to gauge child well-being nationally.

Consistently at the bottom of the rankings, New Mexico’s highest placement was 49th in the 2021 report.

Comparatively, the 2024 data identifies Arizona (42nd) and Texas (43rd) as states facing similar challenges. Conversely, Colorado (17th) and Utah (3rd) are neighboring states excelling in child welfare, according to the report.

Utah leads nationally in the Family and Community category, encompassing teen pregnancies, single-parent households, poverty rates, and educational outcomes within households.

Although New Mexico lags in this indicator, the state has made significant strides since 2019, with more children residing in economically secure homes with better-educated parents, along with a decline in teen births.

Conversely, educational outcomes in New Mexico and nationwide show declines in three out of four indicators, particularly in reading and math proficiency.

Educational Challenges

New Mexico’s educational performance mirrors the national trend, notably showcasing higher rates of children not proficient in fourth-grade reading (79% from 76% in 2019) and eighth-grade math (87% from 79% in 2019).

Emily Wildau, KIDS COUNT coordinator at New Mexico Voices for Children, highlighted the impact of standardized test scores on New Mexico’s education rankings, emphasizing the disparities in catering to multicultural, multilingual student needs.

The state’s K-12 Plus Program, established under a new state law in the 2023 legislative session and endorsed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is referenced in the report as a measure enhancing children’s learning opportunities.

House Bill 130 modified the Public School Code to extend instructional time requirements, allowing increased state funding for schools extending the learning calendar beyond 180 days, especially for districts operating on a four-day school week.

However, the debate over extending the school year remains contentious among lawmakers, school boards, educators, students, and parents, with legal challenges delaying the implementation of the new regulations.

Impact of Health Indicators

Health indicators have bolstered New Mexico’s scores over the past decade, yet recent stagnant improvements raise concerns.

The data book indicates a reduction in uninsured children between 2019 and 2022 in New Mexico but also notes an uptick in low birth weight babies and child and teen fatalities.

In 2022, New Mexico reported 40 child or teen deaths per 100,000, surpassing the national average of 30, alongside nearly 10% of babies born with low birth weights in the state.

On a positive note, the state observed a decrease in teen births within the family and community sector.

Strategies for Enhancing Child Well-Being

The KIDS COUNT report suggests multiple strategies to enhance overall child well-being, emphasizing the adoption of community schools across state school districts.

Community schools, serving as hubs for comprehensive student support, offer essential services like meals, mental health assistance, and additional resources beyond traditional education.

As of September 2023, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department, the state operates 150 community schools, with 91 schools receiving state grant funding to bolster their services.

The databook underscores the benefits of wraparound services provided by community schools in addressing challenges within children’s home environments that might hinder their academic success.

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