Each day we look to God for the guidance to make our children’s lives better than our own. Yet each year in New Mexico, approximately 7,600 children experience abuse or neglect, most often at the hands of a parent or guardian. In my years as a pastor, I have rarely seen a relationship so precious as the one shared by mother and child. Often times, however, outside challenges cause young mothers to stumble in the early years of parenting. The good news is that our state offers personalized coaching to at-risk mothers, which has shown demonstrable success in preventing abuse and neglect before it ever happens.

In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon writes, “Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).” It is within the context of family where values are taught and nurtured. Many young parents, including teen mothers, face challenges in lacking knowledge, resources or necessary support to raise their children. It is in this space that we can find comfort in the expertise of home visitors. Home visiting pairs at-risk families with trusted advisers who call on the families’ homes and provide personal support from pregnancy through the child’s first years of life.

Frequently, it is the most routine situations that can create the greatest stress for new parents. Knowing what to do when a baby will not stop crying, the best positions for a newborn to sleep in, how to child-proof a home — young and inexperienced parents often need counseling and guidance. An infant does not come with an instruction manual, and coaching in parenting skills increases the child’s chance of health and wellness.

Research from a nationwide group of evangelical pastors and ministry leaders committed to at-risk children shows that voluntary home-visiting programs decrease child abuse and neglect. A study by the Nurse-Family Partnership shows home-visiting programs cut child abuse and neglect in half among participating families. The sharing of expertise and knowledge in the home-visiting relationship provides for stability and growth; it establishes a family foundation. When a family finds healthy independence, benefits extend beyond the child. Young mothers involved in home visiting are more likely to obtain education and average 70 percent fewer crime convictions than mothers who did not receive home visiting.

As pastors and ministry leaders, we dedicate ourselves to strengthening New Mexico families and ensuring at-risk children in our communities have the opportunity for bright futures.

To that end, I urge the state Legislature to maintain and expand home-visiting programs throughout New Mexico that provide vital services to so many families in need. Our state is only as strong as its communities. We must protect, invest and encourage strong families and support investments in effective parent coaching. Every child of New Mexico deserves no less.

The Rev. Dan Pearce serves as director of missions for the Tucumcari Baptist Association and the Eastern Baptist Association. His office is in Clovis.

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