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New Mexico making strides in child well-being despite last place ranking by KIDS Count

A member of Bennie Hargrove's family plays at a park renamed in honor of heroic 13-year-old
Gino Gutierrez
A member of Bennie Hargrove's family plays at a park renamed in honor of heroic 13-year-old

As parents across the nation navigate the ever-changing challenges involving access to affordable and quality child care, the new national 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book looks to analyze how states access the country are fairing in these areas.

The book includes data and text on the value of child care and the need for national policies to make it more affordable for families, while also increasing the pay for early childhood educators.

These are all issues that have been at the forefront in New Mexico in recent months, with legislators, advocates and workers in the early childhood education sector discussing the needs they want met in order for the state’s youth to continue to thrive.

The data compiled in the book comes from 2021 statistics and is broken up into four different categories that measure the overall well-being of a child in America: economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

New Mexico places last in the rankings calculated by the data book.

The book goes on to explain that a child’s chances of thriving depends not only on individual, family and community characteristics, but also on the state they are born and raised in and that state’s policy choices or lack thereof and investments in child care.

Despite the last place ranking, New Mexico Voices for Children Executive Director Amber Wallin said it’s important to look beyond New Mexico’s positioning and focus on efforts and strides the state is making to improve child well-being.

“I know what it feels like to look at those rankings and to hear things, we’re 50th, but I think I also have the privilege of having paid a lot of attention to the state over time and seeing beyond what that top line story often is because I think the story isn’t actually the ranking. It’s actually looking at the data and when you look below that and you look at what is happening in New Mexico and you see that despite that ranking, we’re actually making major progress in so many areas of child-well being. If you compare New Mexico to ourselves and where we’ve been, policies we’ve put in place and how that has improved child well-being outcomes, you actually see that there is so much progress and so I think that my reaction was actually very pleased about that improvement, those many improvements that we’ve seen.”

Some of the areas of improvement Wallin referred to were consistent advancements in lessening the number of child poverty, high school students not graduating on time, the percentage of children without health insurance and teen birth rates in New Mexico.

The state has also made investments in childhood care with the passing of Constitution Amendment 1, that allocated almost $150 million for early childhood education and $100 million that was given to the Early Childhood Education and Care Department to help increase the access to early childhood care across the state.