COMMENTARY: On May 2, 2016 we launched PullTogether, a community engagement effort that calls on New Mexicans to join the fight to make our state the best place to be a kid. The effort includes connecting New Mexicans to resources in their communities and around the state, while also helping those who want to make a difference find ways to help.
We are doing this through a resource and referral phone line, website and the development of community hubs.
The main focus of PullTogether is to encourage communities to play a role in improving the quality of life of every child – whether that’s learning how to be a better parent or finding ways to help another family.
PullTogether will direct New Mexicans in need to various resources. Right now, fewer than 1/3 of those eligible for child-care assistance are taking advantage of it. We want to build awareness of important programs like child-care assistance and free summer meals. We have also worked with experts to compile helpful tips to assist our parents in caring for their children and keeping them safe.
This effort will also serve as a resource for New Mexicans who want to make a difference in their communities. This includes adopting or fostering a child, donating a backpack to a child in need, reporting child abuse or neglect, or even applying for a job at CYFD.
New Mexicans are already responding to our call and finding ways to pull together for our children. More than 500 people attended kickoff events in Rio Rancho, Taos, Las Cruces, Silver City, and Socorro. We’ve received phone calls and emails from former foster parents, youth baseball coaches, church leaders, and business owners wanting to know how they can pull together for the children of New Mexico. Even children are pitching in to help inform and support their peers.
PullTogether is not a silver bullet; it’s an important component in a larger plan. The money spent on this campaign makes up less than one half of one percent of CYFD’s total budget and less than 1.5 percent of our early childhood services budget. We know we need to continue building New Mexico’s service array. And we are doing just that:
- Since 2010, funding for CYFD’s early childhood service programs — child care assistance, home visiting, pre-K, and early pre-K — has grown by $47 million.
- Since 2010, CYFD has received $21 million in federal funding for home visiting, and just last month we received an additional $3.5 million in federal funding support.
- On May 12, a new report from the State Preschool Yearbook showed that New Mexico increased pre-k enrollment and improved its rank by ten spots — to 18th in the nation.
We are also working to improve CYFD as an agency and build a strong workforce. In the last year:
- We cut in half the vacancy rate for our field workers, from 24 percent down to 12 percent.
- We added more than 50 new positions last year, with an additional 22 being added in the coming year. In fact, we have more field workers today than we’ve had in the agency’s history.
- We have rolled out a loan repayment plan and targeted raises to assist our field workers.
- We have increased the safety measures in place for our workers, improved training for our employees, and implemented IT upgrades to assist our workers in the field.
This is just the beginning of the improvements we are making to the agency. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we can’t do it alone. We need to engage the community to give children and families the support they need. No one agency, initiative, or nonprofit can do this alone.
To truly make a difference in the quality of life for our children it will take businesses, our government, and local communities pulling together. It will take friends, families and caregivers pulling together. Nobody can do it alone.
It’s the people who care that make all the difference. Stand up, pull together, and be the person who improves the life of a child.
Monique Jacobson is the cabinet secretary for the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department.