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Participants in a child abuse prevention forum include, pictured, from left, Ginny Adame, president of the Los Lunas Community Wellness Council; authors Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello, who wrote “Our Kids Aren’t Safe. That Changes Now,” and Alexandria Taylor, director of Valencia Shelter Services.

LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas Community Wellness Council and Valencia Shelter Services hosted a child abuse prevention forum Monday at the Wellness Center.

The speakers were the authors of “Our Kids Aren’t Safe. That Changes Now. Anna, Age Eight — The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment,” by Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello.

Both authors previously worked for the Children, Youth and Families Department and are the developers of the Data Leaders for Child Welfare program being implemented in New Mexico, New York and Connecticut. The book is available as a free download at safetyandsuccess.org.

“You have to question the status quo,” Cappello said. “The status quo is this: you’re in the middle of an epidemic of child trauma. Everything that we’re doing is supporting an epidemic of child trauma that is not getting better. So, we can’t go on as usual.”

Safety is a prerequisite for raising healthy, resilient children but one third of Valencia County children are subject to adverse childhood experiences — ACEs, and one in eight children nationally are mistreated by the age of 18.

Physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well as physical and emotional neglect can lead to childhood depression, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, incarceration and the continued cycle of child abuse.

To break the cycle, parents can obtain free and low-cost social services, but the problem is getting parents to take advantage of the programs, said Ortega Courtney said.

“After we left CYFD, again, we kept seeing more and more that things are just not getting better,” she said. “The system is clearly not working the way it was intended to work.”

The good news is there is a solution but it will require a commitment from the community.

The authors said abuse prevention is more cost effective than the costs after the fact, and they are calling on communities to partner with school boards and elected officials to start a prevention program in Valencia County to stop the epidemic of child abuse.

All of the participants of the forum were direct social service providers from Valencia County and Albuquerque, although schools boards, municipal councilors, county commissioners and Valencia County representatives were all invited.

“Those of us who are bearing witness to children’s stories every day are really committed to figuring out how we can prevent childhood trauma and maltreatment,” said Alexandria Taylor, executive director of Valencia Shelter Services. “But the need is for more stakeholders from the community to be involved.”

Las Cruces recently began an ACEs prevention program and it is the nation’s first pilot site of a data-driven, cross-sector and systemic ACEs prevention project.

“It took one person, but trust me, she’s got some people around her, but it will take a champion,” Cappello said. “You really have to know if you’re ready to take this on but the only way we’re going to change anything is to move forward this way.”

Taylor said the county needs elected officials to engage and provide positive representation that can have an impact and bring this issue to public consciousness. The AIDS quilt is an example of a public awareness project, and she said the county needs something like it so that this issue doesn’t become a news item and then cycle out of consciousness until the next child dies.

For more information on ACEs prevention visit ResilienceLeaders.org, or download the book at AnnaAgeEight.org.

For information on how you can get involved, call Dominic Cappello at 690-9599 or Noelle Chavez, the community wellness coordinator, at 388-3547. Email communitywellnesscouncil@gmail.com and visit the website at communitywellnesscouncil.org.

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