New Mexico Voices for Children has appointed a successor to longtime executive director James Jimenez, who led the statewide children’s advocacy organization since 2016 and recently announced his retirement.
Amber Wallin was named in October to take the reins of the group. She had served as deputy director since 2017.
In an interview Wednesday, Wallin, 40, acknowledged she’s stepping into the role at a pivotal time. New Mexico is flush with funding from an oil and gas boom and federal pandemic relief funds and has an opportunity to make gains in dealing with longterm problems that affect children.
“Prior to COVID, we saw some really important policy improvements,” she said. “We were starting to see improved childhood outcomes as a result, and then of course the pandemic hit and created massive challenges for all of our families in the state, for all workers in the state.”
New Mexico ranks 49th in child wellbeing, according to the 2021 Kids Count survey, which measures key indicators affecting children and is compiled by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Data from New Mexico Voices for Children showed more recent dips in key markers through the COVID-19 era.
“What the data shows is that higher income families have actually improved their employment situations since prior to the pandemic,” Wallin said. “But the low-income families, especially families of color and mothers with children, have a long way to go to make up some of that economic power.”
Wallin, who lives in Albuquerque, said she hopes state lawmakers will expand postpartum Medicaid coverage for mothers and implement more economic relief for families struggling through the pandemic during the upcoming legislative session.
Wallin urged the state to “diversify” revenues away from the fluctuating cycle of oil and gas funding.
“It’s different now because there’s also an infusion of federal funding,” she said. “But we’ve seen these boom times before and inevitably … we go into a bust cycle and then we aren’t able to adequately support those programs that matter most for kids and families.”
Wallin has been with Voices for Children since 2012 and has a master’s degree in public administration from New Mexico State University.
Jimenez will maintain his position as executive director for the New Mexico Pediatric Society, which he assumed when the two organizations formed a partnership in 2017, according to a news release from the nonprofit. He’ll also continue to direct Voices for Children’s Action Fund.