UNM Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies Xi Gong is a co-convener of the UNM Grand Challenges Level 2 team Child Health Team. The group’s work aims to develop and operationalize the systematic, data-driven approach needed to empower child maltreatment prevention in New Mexico.
“Child maltreatment is a multi-faceted issue, with health, public health, economic, cultural and ethical ramifications. In our Child Health Grand Challenge Team, academics from multiple medical and non-medical disciplines (health sciences, public health, environmental sciences, communication and journalism, geography, neuroscience, and child development), community providers, and state agency stakeholders, work together to improve the lives of children and families,” Gong said.
Also co-leading the team with Gong are Rebecca Girardet, a professor of pediatrics, Sara Nozadi, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences.
“Child maltreatment is defined as any form of abuse, neglect, or threat of harm to a child, child maltreatment has enormous public health and societal costs, both in the near-term and across generations official counts of child maltreatment in New Mexico rank our state negatively compared to national averages, and assessments of some of the known risk factors for child maltreatment places us lowest among all states,” Gong said. “New Mexico’s poor rankings portend a stark social and economic future unless child maltreatment is vigorously addressed.”
Gong said a growing number of child and family support programs in New Mexico has potential to help address the problem, but the state doesn’t have a systematic approach to meaningfully assess outcomes. Current systems also leave gaps in our understanding of the prevalence of child maltreatment, and in the state’s ability to identify trends, focus prevention efforts, and discover emerging concerns, he said.
Marginalized children and children of color are disproportionately affected by patterns of violence and maltreatment, Gong said. As such, efforts by the team are closely aligned with UNM’s 2040 goal to advance social justice and health equity.
“Through a concerted, holistic, multidisciplinary team approach, we hope to build a systematic approach to prevent child maltreatment in New Mexico. And the ultimate goal of the team is one day all New Mexican children will be nurtured and free from violence,” he said.