In a July presentation, former Children, Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock testified before the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) saying that New Mexico is below the national average in both child abuse-related fatalities and child maltreatment. He testified that the statistics were based on state Department of Health data. Blalock also submitted a slide presentation outlining the statistics.
After his presentation, lawmakers on the committee raised concerns with LFC staff that Blalock had provided inaccurate statistics at the July hearing. It turns out that the statistics Blalock gave to the committee were seriously flawed if not outright false.
CORRECTED STATISTICS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Staff of the Legislative Finance Committee did a follow up review of the statistics. Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) Director David Abbey wrote in a report memo dated September 23 to committee lawmakers that child abuse deaths in New Mexico were in fact some of the worst in the nation. Abbey’s memo outlined 3 major factors:
1. The rate of child maltreatment fatalities in New Mexico more than doubled from 2.3 per 1,000 children in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
2. New Mexico has the second-highest percentage of children suffering from repeat maltreatment in the nation. In 2019, about 12% of the state’s children who were victims of maltreatment had another case of maltreatment within six months, higher than every state but New York.
3. The maltreatment rate in New Mexico stood at 16.9 per 1,000 children in 2019, sixth highest in the nation and well above the national average of 8.9.
OTHER PROBLEMS NOTED
Abbey noted that the state Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has struggled with staff vacancies and high turnover in key leadership positions. The memo noted the Children, Youth and Families Department has an inspector general tasked with a broad range of oversight, including staff misconduct, but the Inspector General’s Office does not publicize its work, it has a 33% vacancy rate and “possesses an inherent conflict of interest” because it falls under the Cabinet secretary. The agency has a new Office of Children’s Rights, the memo said, but its first director has been dismissed.
Abbey also wrote that agency oversight needs dramatic improvement. According to the memo:
“There are numerous oversight mechanisms external to CYFD but [these] are either inadequate or provide dated information to the public. … External to CYFD at the state level, a number of oversight mechanisms exist. CYFD participates in existing child fatality review panels including the Child Fatality Review Board (CFRB) and the Maternal Mortality Review (MMR). However, reports to the public from these panels have been lacking with the CFRB not having released a report since 2015.”
On Tuesday September 23, Abby’s memo was given to an interim Courts, Correction and Justice Committee hearing during to support a recommendation to create an ombudsman position or office within CYFD.
The recommendations made by Abbey include:
1. Identify a permanent protective services director to replace an acting director — or promote the acting director to the permanent position.
2. Implement research-based hiring practices, including using information from exit surveys to identify issues affecting worker retention.
3. Continue with a pilot of “differential response” to child welfare issues — which involves assessing families, identifying needs and finding support through community services — and provide a plan for expansion.
4. Incorporate federal child maltreatment death reporting into public reporting documents to increase transparency.
5. Place a heavier focus on evidence-based prevention and early intervention resources.
Links to quoted news source materials are here:
CYFD SECRETARY BRIAN BLALOCK’S TROUBLED TENURE
It was on August 10 that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the resignation of Brian Blalock as ,secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The sudden departure was the ending of Blalock’s turbulent 18-month management over the agency responsible for child welfare in New Mexico.
During a press conference announcing his resignation, Governor Lujan Grisham said she had grown concerned over a number of “administrative missteps” Blalock had made, including his policy of using the encrypted messaging app called “Signa” to conduct official state business. When the policy was revealed in April, it ignited a flurry of criticism from attorneys, child advocates and legislators on both sides of the aisle.
The 18-month tenure of Brian Blalock as Secretary of CYFD was very rocky and controversial at best. CYFD came under intense criticism for its handling of a number of deaths of children in CYFD custody. Blalock was also accused in a whistleblower lawsuit of firing and reprimanding employees who raised questions and concerns about a no-bid computer system contract. Just before Blalock’s arrival, New Mexico was also sued over a massive foster-care lawsuit brought by 14 children, alleging that CYFD was traumatizing the roughly 4,700 youth in its care.
According to the Governor, Blalock’s departure was “a mutually agreed-upon decision. However, he said his reason for leaving was to support his wife as she pursues a new job opportunity in California.” Governor Lujan Grisham replaced Blalock with former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil.
“KIDS COUNT” DATA BOOK
It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that the Legislative Finance Committee and its staff easily picked up on the misleading and false statistics provided by former Secretary Brian Blalock in the July hearing. The statistics provided by Blalock did not make sense when compared to the information provided the month before in the annual “Kids Count Data Book”, statistics that the CYFD and the LFC staff also had. For that reason, those statistics merit review.
On June 21, the annual “Kids Count” data book prepared by the Annie E. Casey Foundation was release containing the data from 2019 the most recent statistics available. The Casey foundation is a nonprofit based in Maryland focusing on improving the well-being and future of American children and their families. State rankings by the nonprofit are based on 16 indicators that measure and track the well-being of children and their families in the domains of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.
The links to the Kids Count Data Book is here:
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the statistics released are for 2019, they do not reflect changes that may be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021 KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK ON 2019 STATISTICS
New Mexico’s national child well-being ranking went from 50th to 49th displacing Mississippi, and following Louisiana. New Mexico overall was worse than the U.S. average in most of the categories measured .
Following are New Mexico’s statistics gleaned from the 2021 Kid Count Data Book:
NEW MEXICO RANKING OVERALL: 49th
ECONOMIC WELL BEING FOR CHILDREN
New Mexico Ranking: 48TH
25% of New Mexico Children are living in poverty
116,000 children live in poverty
32% of New Mexico children’s have parents that lack secure employment
115,000 children’s parents lack secure employment
11% of New Mexico’s teens are not school and are not working
12,000 teens are not school and are not working
New Mexico Ranking: 50th
76% of New Mexico’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading
79% of New Mexico’s eighth graders are not proficient in reading
25% of New Mexico’s high school students do not graduate on time
New Mexico Ranking: 37th
9.3% low birth weights for children born in New Mexico
2,124 total children born in New Mexico with low birth weights
6% of New Mexico children are without health insurance
29,000 total New Mexico children without health insurance
36 is New Mexico’s child and teen death rates per 100,000
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
New Mexico Ranking: 48%
44% of New Mexico children live in single parent families or 195,000 children living in single parent families
14% of New Mexico children live in families where the household head lacks a high school education or 69,000 children.
24 is New Mexico’s teen birth rate per 1,000 with 1,659 births
2019 COMPARED TO 2018 KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK
Comparing the 2019 data to the 2018 data, New Mexico’s numbers improved for children in Economic Well-Being” with New Mexico having fewer children living in poverty, fewer children whose parents lack secure employment and fewer teens neither in school nor working.
In the category of Education there were more 8th graders proficient in math and more high school students graduating on time in 2019 than in 2018.
In the category of Family and Community, in 2019 there were fewer children living in families where the head of household lacked a high school diploma, fewer children living in high poverty areas, and a lower teen birth rate per 1,000 births than in 2018.
In 2019, there was no improvement over 2018 in the category of Health. However New Mexico’s national ranking in Health improved from 41st to 37th.
2019, 2018, 2016 KIDS COUNT DATA BOOK COMPARISONS
It was in 2018 that for the first time in five years, New Mexico had fallen to last among states in the categories of Economic, Educational and Medical well-being of its children.
According to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book, 30% of New Mexico’s children were living in poverty in 2016, compared to 19% nationwide that year. In 2019 things have improve slightly by 5% with 25% of New Mexico’s children living in poverty.
In Education the report the 2018 report said 75% of the state’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2017, compared to 65% nationally, and 80% of eighth-graders were not performing up to par in math in 2017, compared to 67% across the U.S. In 2019, New Mexico now has hit rock bottom ranking 50th in the country for Education.
The most troubling in the 2018 Kids Count Data Book was New Mexico’s steep drop in ranking for health care measures. In 2019, things have improved in the Health category with New Mexico ranking 37th .
STAGGERING WINFALL MEANS FUNDING AVAILABLE
On Friday, August 28, during a Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) held in Taos, it was revealed that the State is experiencing an all-time high windfall of more than nearly $1 billion higher than what was projected in February of this year. The estimates released to the legislative committee by executive and legislative economists project that New Mexico will have nearly $1.4 billion in additional money in the coming year. The $1.4 Billion is the difference between expected revenue and the state’s current $7.4 billion budget. The cause of the windfall is surging oil and natural gas production and a rise in consumer spending.
The projected revenue total does not include more than $1.5 billion that will automatically flow into a state “rainy day” fund and an early childhood endowment fund over the next two years. It also does not include the $1.75 billion in federal relief funds that have only been partially earmarked by the Lujan Grisham administration.
According to a report to the Legislative Finance Committee:
“Revenues are up $851.3 million from the February 2021 estimate, due primarily to higher-than-expected gross receipts tax and income tax collections that accompanied increased consumer spending and growth in high- and mid-wage employment in the first half of 2021. … Additionally, strong recovery in the oil and gas markets are pushing severance tax and federal royalty collections well above their five-year averages, resulting in large transfers to the newly created early childhood trust fund.”
The incredible amounts of new money in the billions can be summarized as follows:
–$1.4 billion forecast to come in over the state’s current $7.4 billion General Fund budget.
–$1.5 billion forecast to go into the state’s revenue stabilization and early childhood education funds in the next two years.
–$1.75 billion in federal Covid relief money.
–The state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund, which benefits from the energy bull market as well as the stock market, now stands at a stunning $24 billion.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The rankings and financial numbers are depressing and staggering:
The rate of child maltreatment fatalities in New Mexico more than doubled from 2.3 per 1,000 children in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
New Mexico has the second-highest percentage of children suffering from repeat maltreatment in the nation. In 2019, about 12% of the state’s children who were victims of maltreatment had another case of maltreatment within six months, higher than every state but New York.
The maltreatment rate in New Mexico stood at 16.9 per 1,000 children in 2019, sixth highest in the nation and well above the national average of 8.9.
New Mexico ranks 50th in education. Despite the millions being spent each year on the state’s public education system, 76% of all New Mexico’s fourth graders are not proficient in reading and 79% of all eighth graders and not proficient in reading. For our native American population it’s even worse with 82.4% were not proficient in reading and their 89% are not proficient in math.
25% of New Mexico’s children are living in poverty, with New Mexico ranking 48th in Economic Well Being.
Child and teen death rates have skyrocketed reflecting 36 deaths per 100,000 in 2019 as opposed to 28 in 2013.
The number of low birthweight babies has increased slightly from 8.9% in 2013 to 9.3% in 2019.
The number of teens who still are not working and not in school has also increase slightly going from 10% in 2013 to 11% in 2019.
Albuquerque and New Mexico, and all of its leaders, have a moral obligation to do something to address poverty, children living in poverty and to protect our most venerable population, its children. Instead of wringing of the hands and lamenting the plight of our children, the Governor and the Legislature now have a unique opportunity to do something. With the windfall projected in State revenues in the billions of dollars, the state’s leaders need to act aggressively to protect our children’s health and well being.
The link to a related blog article is here: