Some time in July, Quay County health officials expect to start operation of a home visitation program, in which expectant parents and caregivers of young children up to age 5 can receive visits from qualified advisors to learn about infant and child health and ways they can prepare children for school.
The program has been in planning for nearly a year by a committee made up of public health, social service and education professionals and community leaders, acting on an initiative from the state's Children, Youth and Families Department, Alida Brown, director of the Quay County Health Council, said.
Quay County is among four areas that have been designated as "early childhood investment zones," which triggered the planning for the home visitation programs, according to Jesse Leinfelder, Ed.D, manager of federal home visiting programs for CYFD. These zones were designated under preventive health components of the federal Affordable Care Act.
These zones have "high risk factors and not a lot of services" that can help young children avoid hazards to health and barriers to school readiness, Leinfelder said.
Other such zones were established in McKinley County, Luna County and the South Valley of the Albuquerque area, Leinfelder said.
Leinfelder said Quay's operations will be financed for four years at $250,000 a year through federal funds and CYFD's Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visitation program. Leinfelder said Quay is one of the few counties in New Mexico that does not have a home visitation program.
Brown said research has repeatedly shown that the first five years of life are critical for brain development. Proper health care and emotional and mental stimulation in the first five years has been shown to result in better health and improved attitudes toward education later in life, which results in reduced health-care costs in later years, according to Brown.
The Quay County home-visitation planning committee has chosen Parents as Teachers, a national home visitation organization in St. Louis, Mo., to design the county's program. Parents as Teachers is providing curriculum, training and a research-based set of standards for the home visitation program, Brown said.
The program will be based at Presbyterian Medical Services, 1302 E. Main St., Tucumcari.
Quay County was designated an investment zone, because statistics show a poor performance in factors related to child health and educational readiness in the county, Brown said.
Overall, CYFD statistics compiled for 2010 gave Quay County the state's poorest ranking in prevalence of child health risks, with the county ranking in the top five in state in four indicators that demonstrate need.
CYFD statistics show that in 2010 Quay County ranked:
- Second-highest in the state in the rate of infant mortality at 11.2 deaths per 1,000 births.
- Third-highest in the state in its rate of child abuse, reporting a rate 45.2 child abuse victims per 1,000 children.
- Third-highest in New Mexico in its rate of births to teen mothers with 93.3 births in the county to girls age 15 to 19 per 1,000 babies born.
- Fourth-highest in the state in low and very low birth weight babies, with 11.4 percent of infants born between 2008 and 2010 having lower-than-normal birth weights.
- Fifth-highest in the state in percentage of births that were pre-term (after less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, normal: 38-40 weeks) with 14.5 percent.
Since 2010, some of Quay's numbers have actually worsened, according to data compiled by Kids Count, a national child advocacy organization working with New Mexico Voices of Children, a statewide policy research analysis non-profit organization that advocates for children.
In 2011, Quay County's rate of teen pregnancy was the highest in the state at nearly 93 births per 1,000 population. Quay County's incidence of child abuse was also the highest in the state in 2011 at 51.4 incidents reported per 1,000 population. Voices for Children presented the findings at a workshop on May 17.
The county's poor showing within the state is even more alarming in light of New Mexico's rank as second-to-last among the 50 states in childhood poverty, according to Kids Count. About 31% of New Mexico kids up to 18 years old were living in poverty at the end of 2012, according to Kids Count data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Mississippi did worse at 32 percent, according to Kids Count data.
Representatives of New Mexico Voices for Children and the New Mexico Department of Health presented the statistics at the May 17 workshop.
The workshop, called "Connecting Data to Action," was designed to goad local and regional officials to push for policy-level remedies to children's health and education issues, and show them how to do it, according to Chris Hollis, state director of Kids Count, under the auspices of Voices for Children.
Nearly 232,500 children in the state are poor, the equivalent of the populations of Gallup, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and Clovis combined, Kids Count data shows.
One child in five in New Mexico lives in a high-poverty area. In Quay County, 29 percent live in such areas, according to Kids Count data.