Institute will take effort to combat child trauma statewide

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Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara is bringing together behavioral health, education, community organizing, child wellbeing and health groups in an effort to gather data on Adverse Childhood Experiences and use that information to combat childhood trauma.

Tackling childhood trauma in a data-driven, community-based fashion went from an idea to an institute within the space of a year.

Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara knew from her years as a social worker at the Children Youth and Families Department that even front line workers in child protective services, faced with the hardest cases of abuse and neglect, were not aware of or trained in the theory of Adverse Childhood Experiences and the lifelong effects they have on health and learning.

So when she read the book, “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” written by Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, from research done at CYFD, she embarked on a mission to use data to prevent the heart-breaking instances of abuse she witnessed first-hand in Las Cruces and Dona Ana County.

That project has grown swiftly. A cross section of community members in Doña Ana County have joined in, outside of the usual mental health and child advocate nonprofits, from the medical, business, transportation and education fields. The idea is spreading. There are now similar projects in Socorro County and Española

The effort was the impetus behind a bill seeking to create the Anna, Age Eight Institute at Northern New Mexico College in Española. The institute would utilize a “data-driven, cross-sector system strategy,” and would provide training, coaching and other supports to combat ACEs in communities statewide.

That measure stalled during the legislative session, but the institute still got funded.

With a $1.1 billion surplus in this year’s budget, a lot of projects were funded in two “junior” funding bills lawmakers cobbled together toward the end of the session.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will have the final say on whether just over $1 million appropriated to the institute is approved.

Gandara said the idea is to create an institute where other communities can get data about ACEs in their own counties, as well as tools, training and seed money to start their own efforts — and to use the systematic approach to inform state agencies like CYFD and others that support children to tailor support to specific areas.

“We, of course, can give feedback to CYFD: ‘Look, this is what we’re seeing in our community. And how do we work together to combat ACEs or maltreatment so that things like the death of Anna doesn’t happen?” Gandara said.

What’s your ACE score? Take the survey. You can also download a free electronic copy of “Anna, Age Eight.”