All states want to be family-friendly. It’s an easy slogan to adopt but a much harder reality to arrive at. All states have in common is a long list of challenges that many families face daily. A few of the most alarming include:

  • Addiction to opioids, alcohol and various substances which numb emotional pain temporarily.
  • High rates of childhood adversity, abuse and neglect.
  • A public education system that is failing to graduate students prepared for employment in a radically changing job market.
  • Untreated mental health challenges, due to lack of accessible behavioral health care, that impacts learning, job readiness and employment.
  • Local governments that seem less and less able to ensure that every family has access to the basics of survival.

Any state wishing to be a serious contender for the mantle of “family friendly” will have to address these five realities.

So, how do state leaders confront the decadeslong challenges related to addiction, trauma, schools, mental health disparities and less-than-family-focused city and county governments?

Amid a nation content to endure finger-pointing, partisan name-calling and overall apathy about our families’ decent into hopelessness, New Mexico has one radically simple strategy: create a state entity that has as its mission empowering each county to become truly family friendly and child-centric through a process of local continuous quality improvement.

It starts with a basic understanding of the social determinants of health. A quick online search of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health programs will explain: The environments our children grow up in and their parents navigate determine, to a large degree, their physical and emotional health, as well as their prospects for intellectual growth, a good job and longevity. Essentially, a well-resourced community is key to raising safe and successful families.

Now that we know this, the strategy for becoming family friendly is clear. We mobilize each county, reaching out to county commissioners, mayors, city council members and school board members, along with leaders in higher education and nonprofit organizations, to ensure that 10 vital services are of high quality and accessible to each family member: child, parent and guardian.

“Which services are vital?” you may be asking. In New Mexico, there are five services for surviving: stable housing, secure nutritional food supports, behavioral health care, medical/dental care and transportation to vital services.

The five services for thriving are parent supports, early childhood learning programs, fully resourced community schools with behavioral health care staff, youth mentors and job training.

Ten services meeting the needs of 100 percent of families is the radically simple solution. Doing this requires a collective vision, shared use of data to track progress, transparent plans that promote alignment of all governmental and nongovernmental activities, and a belief that every child is a priority.

Is this easy? This will take countywide cooperation. And people have proven, time and time again, when we set our minds to a goal, we arrive. Think moon landing, seat belts, no smoking on planes, Medicare, HIV tests and iPhones.

Is this too bold an idea? Ask New Mexicans engaging with their 100% Community Initiative, supported by the Anna, Age Eight Institute. Experiments are unfolding in counties across New Mexico, in the first phase of assessment, to learn just how big the gap in family services are. From assessing, we move on to planning, acting and evaluating.

As for our challenges, we can watch those decrease when the best minds in the public and private sectors work together, county by county, to ensure trauma-free and thriving families. Becoming a 100% Community is the radically simple strategy with a truly family-friendly New Mexico as the goal.

Katherine Ortega Courtney, Ph.D., and Dominic Cappello are the co-directors of the Anna, Age Eight Institute, sponsoring the 100% Community Initiative in New Mexico. Visit AnnaAgeEight.org.

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