Investing in Actual Families Instead of Advertising To Them Would Be Money Well Spent
by Reina Acosta, Kris Buchman and Diana Maze
On Monday, May 2nd, Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson introduced PullTogether, an advertising campaign intended to inform the public about CYFD’s services. The initiative, which will be advertised through posters, pamphlets, television and radio ads and a website, will cost CYFD $2.7 million, money which will be funneled away from childcare assistance, labeled as “unspent funds.”
With New Mexico ranked 49th in child well being and families on the waiting list for childcare assistance, that money would be better spent on actually helping families access quality childcare as opposed to an expensive advertising campaign.
While Secretary Jacobson recognizes “child care assistance allows parents to go to school or retain a job and not have to worry about where their child is,” her department has made the process of applying convoluted, difficult and time consuming..
While federal guidelines suggest 12 month contracts, CYFD (at best) gives 6 month contracts and, in the case of many parents, will give shorter contracts – in some cases, 3 days’ worth assistance – forcing parents to go back to the CYFD office to reapply and miss more work or school. Oftentimes, parents give up on the process and find alternate solutions that are not always safe but, in moments of desperation, are the only solution.
Many parents seeking childcare assistance from CYFD are also survivors of domestic violence who have left their abuser. While CYFD regulations clearly state that parents can waive the requirement to sue for child support, caseworkers routinely force parents to apply for child support before approving childcare contracts.
Suing for child supports means that survivors of domestic violence have to make contact with their abusers and although Secretary Jacobson has repeatedly been made aware of this widespread problem, CYFD caseworkers continue this harmful practice.
In October and November of 2015, numerous parents testified in front of the Legislative Health and Human Services in committee to highlight these issues. Secretary Jacobson agreed to rectify this matter by including a section on the childcare assistance application that would allow parents to identify themselves as survivors of domestic violence.
As recently as last week, applications at the Albuquerque CYFD office have not been updated, despite Secretary Jacobson’s commitment to do so.
By now, the dismal statistics about child wellbeing in New Mexico are well etched in the minds of anyone working toward improving the lives of children and families. While Governor Susana Martinez praises PullTogether (and highlights her commitment to children), she conveniently ignores the factors that lead to New Mexico being second-to-last for child well being.
Unfortunately, Governor Susana Martinez would rather focus on “all crime all the time” bills that do not address poverty, unemployment, food insecurity and access to early education. Rather than support an advertising campaign, Martinez would show stronger leadership by enacting policies that help families – and boost New Mexico’s economy.
To be sure, making CYFD more user friendly and accessible is an important aspect of making New Mexico a “great place for kids,” but it should not be the focus of CYFD’s work, nor should it be through a $2.7 million ad campaign.
While Secretary Jacobson has an extensive background in marketing and wants to put those skills to good use, PullTogether is not the way to ensure families are accessing childcare assistance. Creating a safe, welcoming environment at CYFD, approving 12 month contracts for childcare assistance and protecting survivors of domestic violence are a sure way to ensure a better future for New Mexico’s children.
Without solving the internal problems that plague CYFD, PullTogether will just be another ad campaign that does little more than waste $2.7 million of taxpayer dollars – money that should go to the very people who need it: working families.
Reina Acosta, Kris Buchman and Diana Maze are members of the OLÉ Working Parents Association.