By Russell Baker, NDI New Mexico Executive Director
Students around the country continue to be impacted by the lasting adverse effects of the pandemic on their physical, mental, and socio-emotional development. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the pandemic had a profound impact on the physical and mental health of youth and people in racially and ethnically marginalized communities and with low incomes have disproportionately experienced negative impacts.
In many places, school attendance has not returned to pre-pandemic levels and learning loss will take years to overcome. On top of that, young people are experiencing the prevalence of anxiety and depression at alarmingly high levels. In New Mexico, children are especially vulnerable.
The 2022 Kids Count New Mexico Data Profile reports that New Mexico ranks last in the nation for overall child wellbeing, as measured by indicators in economic wellbeing, education, health, and family/community. New Mexico is most severely behind in education, and health indicators such as rates of overweight/obesity and teen deaths are on the rise. Moreover, the New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey tracks indicators such as physical fitness, alcohol and drug use, attempted suicide, incidents of bullying and fights, and feelings of depression.
In New Mexico, 44% of students felt sad or hopeless. And if this wasn’t bad enough, finding help is difficult. Access to primary and specialty care is challenging due to a lack of providers who accept Medicaid, patients without insurance, and rural isolation.
The Partnership for Maternal and Child Health Services identified access to healthy food and bullying prevention as top priorities along with availability of affordable afterschool programs and support for those with traumatic experiences, abuse, neglect, and exposure to violence. Public entities, non-profit organizations, and community members must all come together to address this crisis for youth in our state.
The New Mexico Public Education Department has identified four pillars to support our state’s youth including Whole Child and Culturally Responsive Education as well as Asset-Based Supports and Opportunities. Strategies to focus on these areas include increasing social-emotional learning, increasing enrichment and extracurricular activities, reducing chronic absenteeism, and fostering family and community engagement.
As a statewide, non-profit organization dedicated to the health and well-being of young people, NDI New Mexico is helping youth and the community navigate the challenges we face. NDI’s Outreach Program partners with 100 schools around the state and our out-of-school time programs at The Dance Barns and The Hiland Theater are open to all children in the community. All NDI programs are designed to support youth by providing age-appropriate experiences that bring joy, rigor, excellence, and creativity to their lives; providing safe, structured, inclusive, and engaging spaces that inspire them to see, reveal, and strengthen who they are; providing opportunities for them to belong, work together, and build supportive relationships with peers, adults, and schools; and providing the experience of a community that supports and empowers youth and youth development.
All NDI programs are free or on a sliding scale to ensure participation and access. NDI New Mexico teaches children that they CAN. By bringing the Core Four – Work Hard, Do My Best, Never Give Up, and Be Healthy to life for children, NDI New Mexico strengthens children’s ability, identity, and community so that they build resiliency, self-efficacy, engagement, and fulfillment. And now is the most critical time for that message and those outcomes to take hold.