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Editorial: Reach NM offers new helping hand for kids in distress

The state Children, Youth & Families Department has introduced a much-needed, innovative lifeline for New Mexico kids who may be suffering from abuse and neglect – or are aware of someone else who is.

Knowing that youth today are most comfortable communicating via text message, CYFD recently launched a first-in-the-nation text-based platform that allows reporting directly to CYFD’s Statewide Central Intake.

“We tried to recreate the #SAFE experience, where people call that number from their cellphones…,” said spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst. “Now, they have the option of reporting to Central Intake with a text message at 505-591-9444.”

It’s no surprise that reports of child abuse and neglect in New Mexico and elsewhere dropped precipitously with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outside family and caregivers, kids spend more time at school than anywhere else. And with schools closed for in-person learning, they have far less contact with teachers, school nurses and social workers who might spot issues within a family. Instead, kids are spending more time in high-stress, cooped-up home environments where more people are out of work and alcohol and drug consumption often are up.

Nationally, about one-fifth of child abuse reports originated from schools. In New Mexico, The Associated Press reported a drop as high as 42% in abuse and neglect reports last spring. And it’s safe to assume that’s not because abuse and neglect aren’t happening.

A week or so after launching, the program had been having text interactions with about 10 people daily. A quarter of them generated a report for further investigation, with most of the others expressing concerns or questions about services and resources.

“Reach NM allows us to connect at a one-on-one level to offer support and resources in a way that is natural to our kids,” CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock said.

People who report through Reach NM can remain anonymous. And one kid can help another. Moore-Pabst said a text from one youth conveyed a concern that a friend was being abused. “He provided us with enough detail for us to assign it to an investigator.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the proposal for what would become Reach NM evolved after a senior staff member received a late-night text message from a young person in distress. “My staff was able to connect that child to the help they needed, and that led to the idea of a text-based reporting and support system available to young people at any time, day or night,” the governor said.

And it’s a bargain: funding is expected to be less than $15,000 a year for updating CYFD’s phone and computer systems and for staff training, Moore-Pabst said.

The Lujan Grisham administration deserves credit for thinking outside the box and coming up with another way to help kids in distress.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.