Twenty-year drift abandons generations

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By Harold Morgan

 Children mostly don’t get headlines, except when something really bad happens. Otherwise they remain in the background, doing what they are supposed to do, being children. 

But adverse things happen; “adverse childhood experiences” is the umbrella phrase. And what we get in New Mexico, where we’ve been drifting for 20 years or more, is a generation or two or three of children who have become adults without becoming part of the middle class bourgeois social fabric that is supposed to be what our American society is about. These now-adult children are training their life partners and children in more of the same taking of actions that are morally sanitized with the description “bad choices.”

All sorts of statistics exist about this situation; those numbers will await another column. All sorts of charities exist, too, so many as to generate the hunch that raising the money to stay in business dilutes the work.

I don’t see any broad recognition of the layers of cast-aside people except when someone is shot. Then the headlines come and go, which is the function of headlines, and hands are wrung.

No sense of crisis exists, nothing beyond the usual whining about being 50th in everything. Somehow our so-called leaders can’t figure out that confronting the state’s troubles is the only option. The latest example is the comment from a former senior legislator that the state will have to resemble Detroit before there is a move to action.

A definition: The feds, via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (samhsa.gov), say, “Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse.

“ACEs include: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, mother treated violently, substance misuse within household, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, incarcerated household member.”

That’s a lot of ugly stuff in one place. State government does pay attention to these matters, even if it may not look like it. When times are tight, the focus stays on early childhood, public schools, public safety and economic development.

The New Mexico Sentencing Commission quotes a 1998 ACEs definition: “childhood experiences that were judged to be stressful for the developing child.” The 10 elements listed above sort into “childhood abuse or household dysfunction.”

Four seems the magic number of adverse childhood experiences for raising the odds of the individual having a troubled, at minimum, youth and adulthood. This figure comes from a variety of sources found in my entirely cursory survey of literature. 

The result in New Mexico, for whatever reason, reports the Legislative Finance Committee in its August newsletter, is that “three out of four New Mexico third graders are not ready for the next grade level of reading and seven in ten are not ready for the next level of math.” The figures come from the LFC’s 2017 Early Childhood Accountability Report, which is posted on the LFC’s site at nmlegis.gov.

No wonder that kids get distracted from what Express Employment Professionals, a job agency, calls employers’ five favorites: “attitude, work ethic/integrity, communication, culture fit (and) critical thinking.” As these kids get older and chalk up more adversity, school becomes painful, says my sociologist friend, and energies go elsewhere, possibly hobbies or sports but possibly “peer-based drug use or other activities that lead nowhere promising.”

Lacking confrontation of our troubles, “nowhere promising” is our future.

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