May 3, 2016

Gov wastes more money talking about child abuse instead of fighting it

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Governor Martinez announced a new mulit-million dollar public relations campaign yesterday aimed at improving New Mexico’s rankings for child welfare. You’ll remember that under her leadership, New Mexico continues to rank at the bottom of nearly every list from child poverty and hunger rates, education spending per student, and graduation rates.

But are fancy billboards and an online phone book really the answer?

And it’s probably just coincidence that the former Tourism Department director (same one who oversaw the #NMTrue campaign) is now leading a PR campaign to solve our child abuse crisis as well.

In her press release, Martinez said “…we owe it to our children to give them the brightest future possible.”

Well, who can argue with that, right? It’s just too bad the plan doesn’t do anything to actually alleviate the myriad problems facing the various state agencies tasked with helping kids and families.

The “Pull Together” campaign has a reported price tag of $2.7 million, with at least $1.2 million going to create the new website and high-end commercials and billboards. Oh, and the website also lists the job openings available at CYFD and other agencies. You know, the ones where Martinez implemented salary caps a few years ago, driving the available number of case workers to critical levels and reducing the effectiveness of those agencies to help kids.

Capture

This is actually the second time Gov. Martinez announced a big, bold PR campaign to end our child welfare crisis once and for all.  In 2011, she launched #SAFE – a hotline to report child abuse or get assistance for children in need.  That campaign cost taxpayers $150,000 for billboards and press releases, but still left hundreds of vacant positions in CYFD in jobs designed to answer the hotline and investigate complaints.

Three years later, we were still writing about the crisis.  In 2014, we ran a 3-part series highlighting the detrimental effect of Martinez’ efforts: to sum it up, her forced salary caps and budget cuts led to 262 vacancies within CYFD by the end of 2013, at least 92 of which were positions within Child Protective Services.

The new campaign has already drawn criticism from groups that work on child welfare issues within the state. In a statement released from the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop John Wester made this amazing observation:

“An online directory is not a silver bullet. These  problems need a large-scale effort to create systemic change. These decades’ old problems, which have recently boiled to a heating point of tragedy, can no longer be ignored. A resource directory is wonderful, if  it is directing people to fully-funded programs, which has not been the case in New Mexico.” 
Indeed, it is most certainly not the case in New Mexico.
The governor and state Republicans (supported by a handful of conservative Senate Democrats) have continually blocked efforts to secure more funds for Early Childhood Education, a crucial element that nearly every expert in the state and around the country points to as being key in helping to end the cycle of poverty that plagues communities.

From the Santa Fe New Mexican story about the new campaign:

Veronica Garcia, executive director for New Mexico Voices for Children, said that while she thinks the anti-child abuse campaign is admirable, she’s concerned the state is underfunding child care, home visitation and social workers. Her group has been at odds with Martinez’s position that New Mexico should not tap the land grant permanent fund to finance early childhood education programs.“It just seems a little bit hard to understand when there are other things” that the state needs to fund to help children, Garcia said of the $1.2 million contract. “We have such huge needs that we have not been able to turn the corner on child well-being.”