By Lance Chilton
New Mexico’s children have problems – at least many of them do. They’re much more likely to die during childhood and adolescence, much more likely to become teen parents, much more likely to drop out of school before graduating than the average American child. And it’s not that America’s children are doing especially well – each child born during the past three years has a lower life expectancy at birth than they’d have had the year before.
You can blame what you will for America’s life expectancy decreases: COVID, the omnipresence of guns, the fentanyl epidemic, but each of these weighs more heavily on families that lack resources – poverty is deadly for children. Along with the fact that more than half of New Mexico children live in families having difficulty paying for usual expenses and more than a third eat less than they should because of insufficient funds, a quarter live below the extremely low already federal poverty level, all suffering more than even this country’s shameful national levels of poverty.
We’ve done fairly well as a nation in raising senior citizens out of poverty, largely through the federal programs of Social Security and Medicare (I won’t get started on Republican plans to decrease those benefits so that oligarchs can afford bigger yachts!). That would probably indicate that if we had the will to do so, we could improve the lot of children rather than just giving lip service to the “children are our future” trope. We aren’t there yet, though increasing the federal and state child tax credits help. But American and New Mexican children still face problems of poverty and its consequences, uneven education, poor nutrition, and decreased life expectancy.
Maybe we should just accept the proposition that American children are consigned to poorer outcomes than children in other advanced democracies. I wouldn’t agree with that, and State Senator William Soules, Democrat from Las Cruces doesn’t appear to accept that either. Senator Soules introduced into this year’s Legislature a proposed constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would add to New Mexico’s Bill of Rights,
• The right to timely, accessible healthcare;
• The right to solution-focused, culturally sensitive behavioral healthcare for the child and family;
• The right to nutritious and adequate food;
• The right to safe shelter, with plumbing, heating, electricity and internet service;
• The right to transportation;
• The right to be in a community with home visitation services beginning at birth;
• The right to early learning programs;
• The right to community schools, including school-based medical, dental and mental health services;
• The right to youth mentorship programs;
• The right to appropriate training for eventual employment.
Not just aspirational, SJR 2 (if passed by the public during the next general election) would have required the Legislature to make all of these things happen by its 2026 session.
These are rights that I hope and believe my wife and I granted to our children and that our children have granted to our grandchildren. We had the resources to do so; not everyone does. But it seems all of us would want these rights for all the children we know.
I was especially pleased to see the sixth of these enumerated rights, as I see home visiting services – trained home visitors coming to the home of new parents to help them through some of the inevitable problems of the first few months and years of a child’s life – as especially important. And not only is it important, it’s also been proven to be an excellent investment; studies have shown a seven times return on investment in home visiting. The costs of not providing these services include increased maternal post-partum depression, increased school failure, increased child mistreatment, increased drug use, and increased incarceration in later life.
I have not been able to talk with Senator Soules regarding future plans for the contents of SJR 2, but I’d be happy if he brought it back in 2024.
For more information on our sad statistics, try the following websites:
To find out what is already in the New Mexico State Constitution’s Bill of Rights, one of many sites to look at would be https://ballotpedia.org/Article_II,_New_Mexico_Constitution