New Mexico’s Disgraceful Legacy Of Being Dead Last In Child Well Being Continues, Despite Gov. MLG’s Pledge To End Child Poverty Within One Year; New Child Well Being Agency Major Step To End The Disgrace

The Kids Count Data Book is published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a nonprofit that tracks the status of children in the United States. The evaluation examines the percentage of children in poverty, the share of fourth graders proficient in reading and a variety of other factors such as economic well-being and health care.

The 2018 and 2019 Kid’s Count Data Reports revealed just how bad things became for New Mexico’s children under the previous Republican Governor “She Who Must Not Be Named”. The trend is continuing under the leadership of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, despite her June 16, 2019 promise to end child hunger within a year.

Notwithstanding New Mexico’s dead last ranking in child wellbeing, a huge step forward was made by Governor Lujan Grisham in dealing with early childhood development. On July 1, the state launched its new Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The new department is charged with preparing kids for school, promoting healthy families and developing a labor force to carry out the agency’s work.


The 2020 Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks New Mexico in last place for a third year in a row. New Mexico was also ranked 50th in 2019, 2018 and before that ranked 50th in 2013.

The Kids Count Data Book rankings are based on 16 indicators under four major domains:

1. Economic well-being
2. Education
3. Health and
4. Family and community.

Much of the “new data” in the 2020 Kids Count Data Book is from 2018, which is the most recent data available. The data book provides comparisons with the 2018 data and the 2017 data book. What the data does not reflect are how the pandemic and economic slowdown have affected the data.

James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state Kids Count program had this to say:

“[The data reflects] 10 years of stingy state budgets under previous administrations that starved our schools, courts, health care and other services. … We were able to undo some of that damage during the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions, but how lawmakers respond to the current recession will determine whether those gains are sustained.”

Amber Wallin, the Deputy Director of New Mexico Voices for Children stated that the good news is that the state is beginning to see improvements in a number of the major areas as a result of major investment that have a direct impact on children. Those areas include early childhood education and child care programs.


The Kids Count Data Book reports on children ages 18 and younger. According to 2018 census data, there are 540,084 children in New Mexico. Over a majority of the improvements reported are slight compared with the previous year. It is the overall improvement over the past 10 years that is more dramatic.

According to Deputy Director of NM Voices for Children, the indicator of children living in poverty showed an improvement of just 1% point, from 27% in 2017 to 26% in 2018. The national average is 18%. The 26% of children living in poverty results in New Mexico being the second-worst in the nation, with 124,000 kids living in poverty. This is far better than the 154,000 kids who lived in poverty in 2010.

Other major data highlights in 2020 Kids Count Data Book worth noting include:

The percentage of fourth graders not proficient at their reading level worsened from 75% to 76%, well above the national average of 66%.

The percentage of eighth graders not proficient in math improved from 80% to 79%, still worse than the national average of 67%.

The rate of high school students not graduating on time improved from 29% in 2017 to 27% in 2018 but remains worse than the national average of 15%.

Children living in single-parent families dropped from 45% to 41%, higher than the national average of 35%.

Children living in high poverty areas dropped from 24% to 21%, still more than twice the national average of 10%.

The death rate from all causes among children and teens age 18 and younger increased from 32 per 100,000 deaths to 34 per 100,000, higher than the national average of 25.

The teen birthrate fell from 28 per 1,000 births to 25 per 1,000 births, higher than the national average of 17 births per 1,000.

Replacing the indicator for teens who abuse drugs or alcohol is a new indicator: teens who are overweight or obese, which increased from 30% in 2017 to 32% in 2018, slightly more than the national average of 30%.


On June 17, 2019, the 30th edition of the Kids Count report was released. For the third time in seven years, New Mexico came in dead last out of 50 states for child well-being. The state was ranked 50th in 2016, again in 2017 and now in 2018 continuing in to 2019 and again now again in 2020.

According to the 2019 study, Louisiana was ranked 49th this year, bumping Mississippi up to 48th. Not at all surprising, it is New Mexico’s widespread poverty and lagging education among Native American and rural Hispanics that brings down the state’s overall rankings.


Under the rating category for economic well-being indicators, the 2019 statistics break down as follows:

27% of New Mexico children are living in poverty which was a 3% improvement from last year.

28% of New Mexico children live in homes where an unusually large portion of family income goes toward housing costs, a 4% percentage point improvement.

36% of New Mexico children live in homes where parents lack secure employment which is virtually the same from last year.

10% of teens are neither working nor attending school, up 1% point from the previous year.


Under education indicators, not much has changed from the 2018 report. The following statistics were reported for 2019:

56% of young children are not in school, a 1% point improvement.

75% of fourth graders are not proficient in reading, unchanged from the previous year.

80% of eighth graders are not proficient in math, unchanged from the previous year.

29% of high school students do not graduate on time, unchanged from the previous year.


Under health indicators, the following statistics were reported for 2019:

9.5% of babies are born with low birth weight, a half percentage point worse than last year.

5% of children have no health insurance, unchanged from the previous year.

There are 32 child and teen deaths per 100,000 which is a 1 percentage point improvement.

6% of teens report abusing drugs or alcohol, a 1 percentage point improvement.


Under Family and Community Indicators the following statistics were reported for 2019:

45% of children live in single-parent families, a 3% increase from last year.

16% of children live in families where the head of household lacks a high school diploma, a 2% increase from last year.

24% of children live in homes in high poverty areas of the state, 2% worse than last year.

28 babies are born to teens per 1,000 births, a 2% point improvement over last year.


On Wednesday, June 26, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham gave the keynote address at the annual “Kids Count Conference” organized by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children and spoke to 500 people gathered for the conference.

During her key note address, Governor Lujan Grisham promised to end child hunger within one year by saying:

“We will look poverty in the face … It is an evil in our state, and it must be dealt a death blow. … Maybe that’s too high of a goal, I don’t care. … New Mexico needs to institute universal food security services and programs in this state and every single philanthropic partner has to be dedicated to making sure no child in this state will ever go hungry again, and I don’t care if it’s a universal snap program. … [It’s going to take] a “wrap around approach” [to fix problems created by the previous administration]. [The national Kids Count ranking] are not indicative, however, of who we are, and they are not indicative of what we are capable of. I unequivocally reject the notion that this is the way it will be because this is the way it has been. … Being 50th in anything is unacceptable … but when our children are at risk, it makes me sick in the pit of my stomach.”

Governor Lujan Grisham said at the time she hoped to organize efforts by philanthropic groups and public agencies to get groceries to hungry New Mexicans, especially children and told the conference:

“Every single person can do something.”

During her keynote speech, Governor Lujan Grisham announced that the state’s Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) receives about 900 referrals a month in Albuquerque alone. According to the Governor, the referrals usually detail allegations of child abuse and neglect. The governor said the state only has enough people to investigate 200 of those case.

For news media coverage see the below links:


On Wednesday, July 1, the Governor Lujan Grisham administration launched its new Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD). The new department is charged with preparing children for school, promoting healthy families and developing a labor force to carry out the agency’s work. Creation of the new department was a major priority of Governor Lujan Grisham during the 2019 legislative session where it won approval. The agency formally began operation on July 1, the start of the 2021 fiscal year. About 270 employees from other departments were transferred into the new one. The sponsors of the legislation were Democratic Senator Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and Representative Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe.

New Mexico is 1 of just 4 states with a stand-alone department dedicated to services targeting children through age 5. The initial operating budget for the new department is $419 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The new department is tasked with overseeing the state’s growing investment in prekindergarten, home visiting programs for new parents, childcare and similar services that previously were scattered across several departments. One of the key goals is to better coordinate the state’s network of early childhood services by housing them in one department rather than having them overseen separately by other departments.

Elizabeth Groginsky has been appointed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as the new Cabinet Secretary for the ECECD. She has been an education executive and researcher for a number of years who has worked in Colorado and Washington, D.C. before coming to New Mexico. Groginsky was hired last year by Lujan-Grisham last year to prepare for the transition. Also appointed as Deputy Secretary is Jennifer Duran-Sallee, former director of the Early Childhood Center of Excellence at Santa Fe Community College.

Groginsky told the Albquerque Journal that the state is not getting the results it wants out of some of its early childhood programs. The new agency offers a good opportunity to design new programs and even revise old ones to ensure the state gets the kind of return on investment that research shows high-quality programs can generate. According to Groginsky:
“Whenever you’re starting a new department you want to make sure it’s really going to make a difference.”


According to analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) New Mexico, along with being is one of the poorest states in the nation, has one of the nation’s highest rates of maltreatment of kids through age 5 a critical period of brain development. Analysts for the LFC said in a 2019 report that New Mexico is getting mixed results in its early childhood initiatives. The LFC analyst said prekindergarten programs have been successful at improving academic outcomes that last through 11th grade, but the LFC analysts questioned the effectiveness of other programs and warned about a lack of coordination.

Early childhood educators and advocates are saying the immediate priority for the new department is developing the workforce. Child care employees and teachers work with children at a critical point in their brain development but aren’t paid as well as they should be. Lori Martinez, a social worker and executive director of Ngage New Mexico, an education group based in Doña Ana County put is this way:

“Our child care workers are some of the most underpaid workers, and yet in this crisis, they’re some of the people we’ve relied on the most.”

Hope Morales, New Mexico executive director of Teach Plus and a former teacher in Roswell, said the state has worked to expand the availability of early childhood programs but should now focus on improving their quality and said:

“Having access to an effective teacher should be non-negotiable.”

Some leaders in the early childhood field already are crediting the department’s leadership for effective communication in recent months. Crystal Tapia, owner of Noah’s Ark Children’s Academy in Albuquerque and an early childhood consulting company had this to say:

“We’ve never had that open line of communication with any other Cabinet secretary. ”


The creation of the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department is long overdue, but is has tremendous potential in investing in New Mexico’s future that promises the biggest returns: our children. The new department will focus state resources on children from birth to 5 years of age. A major goal of the new department, coupled with other investments, will be more New Mexico children growing up to secure gainful employment as adults who don’t require government services.

The rankings and financial numbers relating to New Mexico’s children are depressing and staggering with some downright disgraceful and are again worth highlighting:

New Mexico ranks 50th for at risk of childhood in hunger and “food insecurity.”

New Mexico is dead last among states when it comes to the economic, educational and medical well-being of children.

Children living in high poverty areas is 21%, more than twice the national average of 10%.

26% of New Mexico kids live in poverty while the national average is 18%

The percentage of fourth graders not proficient at their reading level 76% well above the national average of 66%.

The percentage of eighth graders not proficient in math 79% and the national average of 67%.

The rate of high school students not graduating on time is 27% and is the worse than the national average of 15%.

There is a direct correlation between a family’s overall income and child well being. When employment rates go up, child well being also goes up. In the 2019 dramatic 16% increase in the education budget, the creation of the Department of Early Childhood, the $36.5 million increase for the understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department which includes funding for 102 new social workers for the agency’s child’s Protective Services Division, and the decline in New Mexico’s unemployment rate, reflected that tremendous progress was being made towards improving the future of New Mexico’s Children. Now that progress may be in serious jeopardy because of the pandemic, our failing economy and the billions lost in revenue from the bust of the state’s oil boom.


Things have change dramatically with the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of billions in revenues from New Mexico Oil and gas industry. What has not change and what still remains a major crisis in New Mexico is the state’s child well being and our poverty.

No doubt many will say Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s promise to end child hunger within one year was not at all realistic. At least Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made real commitments and are now being kept with the creation of Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The is a far cry from what former Republican Governor “She Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned” whose favorite photo op for 8 years was reading to children their children’s books no doubt not disclosing those very children could not read because of the way she decimated our educational system.

Governor Lujan Grisham no doubt realizes voters will hold her to her promises to children well-being , but even if it takes her entire 4 years in office to end child hunger and improve New Mexico’s rankings in child well being, so be it and her legacy will last generations.

It will take time before New Mexico’s public education system will get better and our child wellbeing ranking made any better. For that reason, the debate over using a small portion of the state’s $17 billion Land Grant Permanent fund for early childhood education, care and intervention needs to continue. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham should continue her efforts to give major attention to use of the State’s Land Grant and Permanent Fund to finally solve many of our early childhood education, care and intervention problems. However, it will also take a real commitment by the New Mexico Legislature to realize the crisis is real and now is the time to act.

Our kids’ lives, health, education and future depend on it.

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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.