We have the nation’s highest rate of kids living in poverty and the second highest rate of teen births. We are third in the nation among kids experiencing food insecurity and third in the nation with a parent who has been incarcerated.
More than 40 percent of our children live in a single parent home, the suicide rate among children and young people is twice the national average, and our rate of child abuse and neglect also outpaces the national average.
The state Children, Youth and Families Department is well aware of these issues and today is kicking off its “PullTogether” campaign with an announcement at Rio Rancho High School.
The overriding theme of the campaign is that all people and communities throughout the state can pull together to “improve the quality of life for our children, and make New Mexico the best place to be a kid,” said CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson.
PullTogether is intended to simplify how people navigate existing CYFD and community resources and to build awareness of specific services and programs. The campaign will include statewide advertising with newspapers, magazines and TV stations. There will be bus and bus stop posters as well as on-site retail posters.
Informational pamphlets will be distributed through community hubs. A resource and referral phone line will be set up, and a user-friendly website will provide information for people who are offering help, those who need help, and a community forum where people can ask questions and get answers from other website users.
As outlined by Jacobson during a recent interview with the Journal, PullTogether is heavily reliant on community involvement in an attempt to “shift the mindset about how we think about the value of our children and our rules and responsibilities in caring for them.”
It also aims to take an “incredibly fragmented system” and connect the pieces via a campaign whose strong and consistent message is a child’s health, safety and well being is everybody’s concern and everybody’s job, she said.
Jacobson has no illusions that solving the myriad problems concerning New Mexico’s children will be easy.
“It takes more than just one agency,” she said. “It takes all New Mexicans getting on board, making our mission their mission, making our fight their fight. That’s how we will move the needle quickly with regard to overall child well being.”
Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been advocating on behalf of children since her days as a prosecutor in Las Cruces, fully supports the new campaign.
“I will never stop fighting to improve the lives of our children, and I believe that is something that every New Mexican can get behind,” she said in an email to the Journal. “That is why it’s so important that we all pull together – as neighbors, family, and fellow New Mexicans – to make our state the best place to be a kid. Because at the end of the day, we owe it to our children to give them the brightest future possible.”
The estimated cost of the campaign is $2.7 million, which will come from reverted early childhood funds unspent by contractor providers.
The multiplatform messaging will continue to talk about safety issues, the focus of previous CYFD campaigns: Never shake a baby, don’t leave children in hot cars, and the importance of calling #SAFE when child abuse or neglect is suspected.
People will also have access to parenting tips, suggestions for low- to no-cost family activities, and a list of specific services and programs in communities around the state – including child care assistance and home visiting.
“Child care assistance is one of the greatest tools we have to break the cycles of violence and poverty,” Jacobson said. “So many tragedies can occur when parents leave their children with inappropriate caretakers. Child care assistance allows parents to go to school or retain a job and not have to worry about where their child is.”
Currently, only about one-third of families who are eligible for child care assistance take advantage of it. The limiting factor is not their income, but that they are simply unaware the program exists and the simplicity of signing up.
Jacobson also said she was hopeful that CYFD’s home visiting program could better target at-risk populations as part of the PullTogether initiative.
“Research shows that sometimes those most at risk are least likely to want someone in their home,” because they associate social workers with parental interference and attempts to remove a child from parental custody, Jacobson said. The challenge is to use the nonthreatening PullTogether campaign to reach these people and “get them to understand and see the benefits of home visitation.”
The CYFD logo will not appear on most of the PullTogether literature and media spots, but this should not be seen as a rebranding of the state agency, Jacobson said.
“We’re not trying to hide it, but neither are we trying to make this about CYFD,” she said. “It’s about pulling together and changing people’s mindsets with regard to children.”