In Taos County, we say we want to protect our children.
We have a lot of good people trying to do so.
Among them are the stalwart volunteers from businesses, nonprofits, libraries, schools and fire stations who've stepped up to take training and offer a designated "Safe Place" for youth fleeing violence, drugs or a bad home situation. Read more about the effort in a story by Cody Hooks in this week's edition. We applaud those volunteers for making the extra time and taking the training to provide safe harbor for youth in need.
Despite those efforts, a few hundred children a year in Taos County are abused, neglected or sexually assaulted.
Every one of those children who suffers represents a failure on the part of not just their parents and aunts and uncles and others to protect them, but of their neighbors and of all of us as the larger village around them. It is a hard, complex and perhaps intractable truth.
The state lists the level of child maltreatment in Taos County as a "cause for concern," according to the New Mexico Indicator Based Information System, which tracks health data for all 33 counties. In Taos County, for every 1,000 residents, there were 33 maltreated children compared to the statewide average of 22 children per 1,000 people.
"Ultimately, due to related costs to public entities such as the health care, human services, and educational systems, abuse and neglect impact not just the child and family, but society as a whole," says the report, in discussing the larger impacts of child maltreatment.
If even one of those children can be helped, it helps all of us.
There is no easy answer, but the place to start is to volunteer with local groups working to resolve the root causes of child abuse - a situation often passed from generation to generation. Groups like Communities Against Violence and Nonviolence Works are trying to help families address addiction, parenting skills, housing and other needs. Big Brothers Big Sisters needs volunteers to pair up and mentor youngsters, showing them all of the opportunities in the big world. HEART of Taos seeks volunteers to help homeless women and children. Many other local organizations are trying to plug the gap and you can find them listed in our "Volunteer Opportunities" section on Page C7 of this week's The Taos News.
Beyond that, lobby your city, county and state lawmakers to find funding for a detox and rehabilitation facility in Taos County. And support efforts by local officials to attract businesses that will create good jobs in Taos since poverty is one of the driving factors of abuse.
It will take a multipronged, sustained effort by Taoseños to address the dark shadow of child maltreatment in our communities. There is no time to waste.