Many of the same issues facing the state Children, Youth and Families Department are at the heart of the issues facing the state as a whole, CYFD Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson told the Economic Forum of Albuquerque on Wednesday.
Further, those issues impact economic development, a message of particular interest for the business and community leaders attending the Forum breakfast – and a good reason, she told them, to get on board with CYFD’s PullTogether campaign to improve the quality of life for kids in our state.
New Mexico consistently ranks as among the states with the worst education system, highest crime rates, and highest child poverty and food insecurity rates. About 80 percent of children in New Mexico are Medicaid-eligible, Jacobson said.
In talking with teachers around the state, they have told her, ” ‘I have children in my class who have not even eaten; how am I supposed to get them to focus on learning math?’ ” Or they have kids in class who ” ‘experienced domestic violence in the home last night and have not slept, so how am I to get them to focus on reading?’ ”
Jacobson said that one of the greatest barriers to attracting businesses and companies to New Mexico is the state’s poor ranking in education and crime.
“Crime is cyclical,” she said, “and the kids that we’re seeing at CYFD from Protective Services and especially Juvenile Justice, if we don’t do a good job with them and get them to reverse their trajectory, they’re not going to be contributing members of society, but contributing to the crime rate that limits economic development.”
Another reason to get involved is because the kids in CYFD custody “are quite literally our children,” Jacobson said. “The closest thing they have to parents at that time is us. I say ‘us,’ the agency, but really it is all New Mexicans. They are in the custody of the state of New Mexico, so these children are your children.”
Improving the quality of life for New Mexico’s children and making New Mexico “the best place to be a kid” are the goals of the statewide PullTogether campaign. The task, however, “will take more than one agency, more than one nonprofit, more than one church, more than law enforcement or schools,” Jacobson said. “It takes us all pulling together.”
She asked the Economic Forum attendees to go to the PullTogether.org website to see how each of them, in their own way, can help.