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We can do better for New Mexico children

August 26, 2018

We are at a critical moment in New Mexico. We have a vital question in front of us. Are we tired of seeing dead children in our headlines? It’s a yes or no question. Avoiding it is a form of denial that continues to doom our children to a life of trauma.

Until we directly and strategically address the root causes underlying every horror we see, we are going to have to admit that we must be OK with seeing children dying. As national health advocate Dr. Donald Berwick said, “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

If we are OK with the outcomes we are getting, living in a state ranked last in child well-being, then we should leave things as they are.

Given the research on adverse childhood experiences, as outlined in our book, Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment, we know that the vast majority of children in our state, and their parents, are dealing with untreated trauma.

It is time to admit that waiting until cases are so severe that children need to be pulled from their homes, or worse — when fatalities happen — is not the solution. It is time to admit that blaming maltreatment on the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department or blaming the dismal education outcomes on the public schools is not working. Just as children do not exist in silos, neither should government systems. We are all in this together. To truly change outcomes for our kids, we need to focus on three things:

Prevention: going upstream to prevent costly challenges, child maltreatment and fatalities before they happen.

Collaboration: synergy and alignment between all levels and sectors (both public and private) serving families.

Data-driven changes: using data to guide us to measurable and meaningful results.

While trauma is a national and state challenge, we must take responsibility on the local level. That means all of us taking a deep look at what they are willing to do to end a status quo that puts children at risk.

The good news is there are examples of collaborations, such as Opportunity Santa Fe: Birth to Career, an initiative supported by the Santa Fe Community Foundation, which can demonstrate the power of collaboration to improve education outcomes for our children in Santa Fe. The Resilience Leaders Program (guided by our book, Anna, Age Eight) in Las Cruces demonstrates the power of the local level coming together with the mission of preventing adverse childhood experiences.

We are blessed in Santa Fe to have nonprofit agencies and foundations ready, willing and able to partner with local government to begin addressing the root cause of our challenges. It is time for leaders in both the public and private sectors, along with every community member, to ask, “Are we OK with the results of our current system?” We must respond with a loud and clear “no.”

Katherine Ortega Courtney, Ph.D., is the director of Collective Impact Initiatives at the Santa Fe Community Foundation. Dominic Cappello is the executive director of Safety and Success LLC. They co-authored a book titled, Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment.

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