New Mexico Will Lead the Nation in Ending the National Epidemic of Childhood Trauma Anna, Age Eight Institute directors Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello have a data-driven strategy for preventing adverse childhood experiences, trauma and maltreatment.
We were working in the State’s child welfare office when we heard the local news reporting on a child fatality. This story, like all stories of its kind, was heartbreaking. It was also deeply frustrating. We knew, working in Protective Services’ Research, Assessment and Data Bureau, that so many cases of abuse and neglect were predictable and preventable. This case illustrated so many things that were not working in our agency, and represented many particular indicators that were all too familiar.
It was then and there, in our basement offices, that we committed to writing a book about the systemic flaws of child welfare, and how they could be fixed. We wanted to use this newly reported child fatality case as a starting point because it highlighted so many of the systemic problems across a myriad of agencies, it saddened up deeply, and we wanted the book to be the redemptive starting point of something new. We were uniquely positioned to write the book as this fatality and the response gave us a front row seat to witness broken systems throughout each community and across the state.
A testament to the compassion, courage and determination of lawmakers and stakeholders across the state, the Institute will focus on preventing adverse childhood experiences to make New Mexico the best state to be a family.
– Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello, Anna, Age Eight Institute co-directors
In order to tell the story, we created a fictional child named Anna, age eight, who would be based on this very real child whose life had been cut brutally short, and who was now headline news across New Mexico and the nation. To explain what had gone so terribly wrong with a variety of government, community and family systems we created a case study of the common themes we had seen again and again in our work for the child welfare system so that we could help others understand the issues faced by any community seeking to change outcomes for children suffering abuse. In our research we discovered that the child who had inspired our work had been in foster care eight times, and like so many other cases we knew, had been involved in the child welfare system for years.
In our search for systems that might guide our work we reviewed many efforts across the nation working to prevent childhood adversity, abuse and neglect. We discovered community groups working to raise awareness of the problems. What we found was that these projects were lacking a comprehensive scope. Nor were they community-empowered, data-driven and cross-sector strategies that would address the root causes of the problems. It became clear that this crisis demanded that we use data to empower advocates for children in a process that could become meaningful action. Our most vulnerable children and families deserve nothing less than data-driven accountability of the systems that were intended to serve them.
Our book, eventually titled Anna, Age Eight, would describe the epidemic rates of children at risk, not just the one in eight children whose abuse or neglect is substantiated by child welfare by age eighteen. Far greater numbers of at-risk children from all socioeconomic levels, were flying under the radar of child protective services, law enforcement, and the schools. We wanted to prevent another Anna fatality, so in our chapters we also made it very clear that in order to do this it would take partnerships from across a variety of public sector services to create a seamless system of care, safety and education.
Our book was published at the beginning of 2018, and we facilitated forums across the state of New Mexico to sound a warning alarm that trauma was not only a family problem isolated to one type of family, or part of town, but a public health crisis that is impacting our schools, colleges and the workforce. Anna, Age Eight caught the eye of stakeholders around New Mexico, including those who would become tireless advocates for the book’s urgent call for action: Las Cruces city counselor Kasandra Gandara, state senator Dr. Bill Soules, and state representative Gail Armstrong. By the next legislative session a senate bill was introduced by Soules and Armstrong to fund the Anna, Age Eight Institute to provide a vehicle for implementing the book’s recommendations. The goal was to create the resources to launch the state’s first technical assistance center focused exclusively on the data-driven, cross-sector and systemic prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment.
A testament to the compassion, courage and determination of lawmakers and stakeholders across the state, the Institute was launched July 1, 2019 with a focus on preventing all adverse childhood experiences to make New Mexico the best state to be a family.
We’re honored to be guiding this groundbreaking endeavor. Please join us.
With gratitude, respect, and hope,
Katherine Ortega Courtney, PhD and Dominic Cappello
Co-Founders and Co-Directors
Anna, Age Eight Institute