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Early Childhood Education and Care secretary talks about stabilizing families with new funds

La Esperanza

At any given time there are about 2,300 children in foster care in New Mexico and only a small fraction are waiting for adoptive families.

Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, secretary of the state's Early Childhood Education and Care Department, said most kids in the child welfare system are under the age of five and programs like home visiting can connect young families who are struggling with housing and employment to resources and help build confidence to keep families together.

"When a family is stressed, they don’t know if they have enough money, they’re concerned about their child’s development, and they don’t know where to go, that’s when I think we see more of that stress result in parenting practices that are not supportive of their child" said Groginsky.

Groginsky also added that early intervention is crucial, especially after the pandemic, to help families detect developmental problems early on.

KUNM recently explored the many problems with the state’s foster care system on several Let’s Talk New Mexico shows. But the state is also investing tens of millions of dollars into early childhood care and education and we wanted to see how that might help stabilize families before foster care enters the picture. Secretary Groginsky had this to say about getting families the support they need.

SECRETARY ELIZABETH GROGINSKY: We have a very important role to play in making sure that families feel safe, supported, and have access to the very important programs home visiting childcare, pre K.

So we work very closely with the Children, Youth and Families Department in thinking through how do our systems intersect? And how do we first and foremost, make sure that all families across New Mexico have access to these kinds of high quality evidence-based programs and services that are proven to reduce child maltreatment, improve child developmental outcomes, and strengthen that parenting, positive parenting that happens in the home.

KUNM: You mentioned all the resources you're providing parents and, last November, voters chose to amend the [state] constitution to allocate additional money to early childhood amounting to about $150 million to your agency. How is this funding crucial to keeping families both healthy and together?

SEC GROGINSKY: We've already seen it in the first term of this administration, the way we have expanded access to full day pre-K and expanded access to childcare assistance. Childcare is, the cost of it is out of reach for most families. So being able to both expand to up to 400% of poverty, which for a family of four is $120,000 [annual income], has made it easier for more families to get the care and the support they need, which again reduces their stress. Those caregivers are helping them with tips and things that they can do to support their child.

And now with much of our pre-K prior to [Gov. Michelle] Lujan Grisham was partial day, and she has made that a priority to make it full day. Now we're going at minimum 6.5 hours a day for our pre-K program with this expansion, because this funding is allowing them to have that option. So all of these things, we're already seeing the impact here in our first four years, we're calling this really the generational historic opportunity here in New Mexico. I would say two, three years from now, we're going to see children entering our kindergarten classrooms more prepared, more ready to take up that K-12 educational experience.

KUNM: This past legislative session you all received more funding than you originally asked for. What programs are you thinking about either creating or strengthening to help the state get out of our last place rankings?

SEC GROGINSKY: We're bringing in more evidence-based home visiting and expanding access to home visiting a couple of models that one in particular called Child First, works with families who have substance use challenges and also mental health issues. To also expand Healthy Families America, another proven evidence-based home visiting program, working with families who are at risk of or who have had issues with child abuse and neglect. So these are two new models we're going to be bringing along withNurse Family Partnership.

And I would say the other one isFamily Connects. This is an exciting one because I think this gets at what a lot of us are concerned about in New Mexico or you know families and babies born drug-exposed. How do they get connected fast? They're in the birthing hospitals. So right now we're in Bernalillo, we have plans to go statewide. But every family, regardless of income, regardless of situation, would have the opportunity to have at least three to four visits from a nurse who would come and just check on you know, how are you doing, any questions, what's happening? And then if that family needed more, they connect them to another home visiting program that's more long term.

These are the kinds of investments that our administration are making in families and really in our communities. Because if a family can't access these programs and services in their community, that is when we see the risks go up both for the family, for the child. And so building stronger communities that are offering high quality childcare, high quality pre-K, early intervention services, home visiting, and sometimes a family may have all three of those.

So it's the combination of these programs working together to support families to help support their child in reaching developmental milestones that builds the family's competence and competence and their strategies, building that positive attachment and those relationships with their children.

Support for this coverage comes from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.
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