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Child Health

An ongoing problem

New Mexico has high reported rates of child maltreatment and child maltreatment risk factors compared to the rest of the US. Maltreatment can occur in any home.

Building a systematic approach to preventing child abuse and neglect in New Mexico

The UNM Child Health Grand Challenge team includes academics from multiple medical and non-medical disciplines, community providers, and New Mexico stakeholders, working together to improve the lives of children and families. We examine research questions at the individual, family, community, and societal levels, recognizing that children’s health is strongly influenced by the environments in which they live. The team’s goals are to provide needed data to state policy-makers that will result in improvements in the well-being of New Mexican children and families; and to contribute rigorously-derived research to the world pediatric scientific literature.


  • Rebecca Girardet, Professor of Pediatrics (SOM)
  • Sara Nozadi, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Xi Gong, Assistant Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies

Additional team members

  • Alexis S Grasse, Resident Physician II 
  • Claude Morelli, Research Scholar, Civil, Construction & Environmental Engineering
  • Danny Rogers, Assistant Professor, Pediatric Neurology (SOM)
  • Diego Ruiz, undergraduate student double-majoring in Biology and Applied Mathematics, Pre-Medical Track
  • Gabriel Sanchez, Director, Political Science 
  • Garon Bodor, Research Scientist 2
  • Hannah Yohalem, Research Program Operations Director
  • Holly Jacobson, Associate Professor, Linguistics
  • John I Sanchez, PLN / CART Program Manager 
  • Julia M Stephen, Department of Radiology 
  • Julia Stephen, Physics & Astronomy Department
  • Kira Villa, Associate Professor, Department of Economics 
  • Leslie Strickler, Professor, Department of Pediatrics, SOM 
  • Melody Avila, Assistant Professor, College of Nursing 
  • Monique Rodriguez, Assistant Professor, Individual Family Communication Education (IFCE) 
  • Pilar Sanjuan, Associate Professor, Family & Community Medicine (SOM)
  • Sharon Ruyak, Assistant Professor, College of Nursing
  • Theresa Cruz, Associate Professor, Pediatric Prevention and Population Sciences
  • Xiazhong John Yu, Professor, Education/Devt Manager - Family Devt Program
  • Yangsun Hong, Assistant Professor, Communication & Journalism
  • Ybeth Iglesias, Education/Devt Manager - Family Devt Program

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Team Research Questions

Currently available data on child maltreatment in New Mexico is limited to cases that have been reported to the Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD), leaving out those that fall outside of CYFD jurisdiction and or that were never reported. Understanding the true scope of child abuse and neglect is foundational to efforts to address and prevent it.

Societal perceptions of child maltreatment often drive policy decisions. Understanding public perceptions of child maltreatment will inform future education initiatives and community outreach efforts.

Trauma in childhood can negatively impact a child’s physical and emotional development. Improving our understanding of the biological mechanisms behind these changes can help drive future treatment modalities.

New Mexico is a national leader in promoting programs that are known to improve child and family well-being, including in the areas of early childhood education and family support. However, the state’s ability to measure program outcomes is currently limited. The Child Health Grand Challenge team will develop the longitudinal data that is needed to determine program impacts, allowing for more targeted investments in child and family supports in the future.

Current projects

Measuring child maltreatment incidence and community protective factors in New Mexico

  • PI: Rebecca Girardet, MD, Professor, Department of Pediatrics
  • Co-PI: Gabriel Sanchez, PhD, Professor, Department of Political Science, and Executive Director, UNM Center for Social Policy
  • Co-PI: Sara Nozadi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacy
  • Community Research team members: Dr. Royleen Ross, Dr. Deana Around Him, Dr. Johnney Lewis, Dr. Olivia Lindly

Child Maltreatment Prevalence in New Mexico

  • PI: Alexis Grasse, DO, senior resident, Department of Pediatrics
  • Co-PI: Rebecca Girardet, MD, Professor, Department of Pediatrics
  • Co-PI: Leslie Strickler, DO, Professor, Department of Pediatrics
  • Co-PI: Garon Bodor, MS, Research Coordinator, Office of the Medical Investigator

Do We Care Enough About Child Maltreatment? – Understanding Public Perspectives on Child Maltreatment in the United States using Social Media Big Data

  • PI: Xi Gong, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, and Director, Spatially Integrated Social Science Lab
  • Co-PI: Rebecca Girardet, MD, Professor, Department of Pediatrics
  • Yanhong Huang, doctoral student in the UNM Department of Geography & Environmental Studies
  • Yujian Lu, doctoral student in the UNM Department of Geography & Environmental Studies

New Mexico Prekindergarten and its Short-Term Effects on County-Level Female Employment and Child Maltreatment

  • PI: Kira Villa, PhD, Professor, Department of Economics
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