The Child Health Grand Challenge team at The University of New Mexico is undertaking a two-year study on child maltreatment incidence. The study, led by principal investigators Rebecca Girardet, professor of Pediatrics, and Gabriel Sanchez, professor of Political Science, further aims to identify cultural practices that may serve as protective factors in reducing negative outcomes. The team has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to carry out their research.


Child maltreatment is associated with poor adult health outcomes which are estimated to cost the United States more than $2 trillion annually. According to the research team, New Mexico has a rate of child abuse and neglect that far exceeds the national average; factors such as poverty and a struggling education system increase the risks for child maltreatment in the state. 

However, measuring the incidence of child maltreatment does not tell the entire story. Protective factors in a child’s life such as positive experiences may influence adult outcomes more than the occurrence of maltreatment. The team seeks to discover if cultural practices unique to New Mexicans provide protection against adverse outcomes later in life. The two-year study, a survey of New Mexicans ages 18-22 who spent at least some of their childhoods in the state, will provide data on child maltreatment and community-level protective factors. The collected data will allow researchers, as well as state agencies and lawmakers, to gain a better understanding of the scope and drivers of maltreatment in the state. The team hopes that their data will aid in the creation of future maltreatment prevention programs. 

“New Mexico is making strides in implementing strategies that hold promise for preventing child maltreatment, such as increasing access to early childhood education and other programs that support families with children,” says Girardet. “But the state does not have a good metric for measuring the full scope of child maltreatment, so currently it is not possible to know the full outcomes of these strategies. We also don’t have any data on cultural practices that may promote resiliency and help prevent maltreatment.”

The Child Health Grand Challenge team is led by Girardet, Sara Nozadi, assistant professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Xi Gong, assistant professor of Geography & Environmental Studies.

“The team’s mission is to generate research that will help New Mexico address and prevent child maltreatment. This survey project is foundational to that mission for two reasons. First, the project will tell us whether child maltreatment is improving or worsening over time. Second, the survey will provide information about nurturing cultural practices that may help us learn how to promote resiliency,” Girardet said.

After the initial two-year study, the team intends to use their findings to inform future research work on child maltreatment. They further hope to secure additional funding to issue their survey every five years in an effort to guide state policy and prevention efforts. 

The Grand Challenges program was launched in late 2018 by UNM President Garnett Stokes. Grand Challenges are problems of global, national, and regional significance that require researchers to work together across disciplinary boundaries to develop and implement solutions. Grand Challenges address problems that, when solved, have a significant positive impact on people and society. The University of New Mexico is the state’s leading research institution, making it the ideal location in which to situate complex interdisciplinary research work. For more information, visit UNM Grand Challenges.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special attention is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit