TAOS, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico’s Children, Youth & Families Department is being sued for placing a one-year-old boy in a home where investigators say he was tortured for months. It’s connected to a case KRQE Investigates exposed in December 2022 as CYFD placed him back in the home of his alleged abusers.
The lawsuit, filed by an advocate for the boy, accuses the state agency of missing several red flags before allowing the couple to adopt him. It claims CYFD failed to check up on the home after the initial placement which almost cost him his life.
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The boy was born in Utah in October 2018. His first foster Mom, Audrena Apadaca, told KRQE in December, he joined her family at just three weeks old because he had meth in his system at birth. But despite a few developmental delays, he learned to crawl and even walk.
Less than two years after the boy was placed with the Apadacas, Utah’s Child and Family Services tracked down his blood relatives, Heidi Velasquez and Adrian Vigil, in Taos County. The boy’s advocate claims in the lawsuit that the agencies entered an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPS) process. And the lawsuit states, “As part of the ICPC process, CYFD was required and responsible for evaluating the placement of [the boy] in the home of Adrian Vigil and Heidi Velasquez. This included conducting a Home Study that evaluated both the physical premises of the placement but also evaluating the persons in the home.”
In March 2021, Velasquez and Vigil were arrested on accusations they tortured the toddler for at least six months. “The timeframe is, is what really kills me,” said Apadaca.
The lawsuit alleges that once CYFD put the boy in the couple’s Questa home, the state did not check on him often enough, allowing Velasquez and Vigil to get away with neglecting his medical and developmental needs. The lawsuit even claims he was noticeably malnourished soon after moving into the home. Yet, it adds the state agency still allowed the adoption to become official.
Apadaca has wondered how no one caught the abuse he endured. “I know there were certain requirements that needed to be met that don’t make sense that if they had been doing that, there should have been indications,” she said. “There should have been signs, especially with the different levels of trauma that that, that report indicates.”
Apadaca is referencing the criminal charges report that details the injuries the boy allegedly endured for months. It notes he suffered a head bleed, had multiple broken bones, scars all over his body, open sores on his buttocks, and bruises under his fingernails.
The lawsuit alleges that even when the hospital’s Child Abuse Response Team told CYFD abuse was occurring in the couple’s home, CYFD didn’t immediately take custody of the child. The lawsuit states, “It was not until the head of the Child Abuse Response Team contacted CYFD and expressed her significant concern with [the boy’s] wellbeing that CYFD finally sought a 48-hour hold and took [the boy] into its custody.”
“No child deserves to have anything like that happen to them, but I know what treatment he had from the beginning and I know the obstacles that he overcame just in our home,” said Apadaca. “And there was no reason that he should have ever have not stayed on that trajectory of positive things and that’s heartbreaking.”
Velasquez and Vigil are scheduled to go on trial in April.
Republicans in the State Senate highlighted the lawsuit Wednesday in their call for more oversight over CYFD.
CYFD would not comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.
The state agency sent the following statement from Cabinet Secretary Barbara J. Vigil:
“We cannot provide information considered confidential under state law. As a general matter, in accordance with our obligations under the Children’s Code and applicable court orders, we conduct ongoing assessments regarding the safety and well-being of all children in department custody.”
Attorneys for the child’s advocate also sent a statement. It reads in part:
“As a direct result of CYFD’s failures and breaches of duty, [the boy] suffered extreme physical abuse, neglect, exploitation and harm. We trust that the Court process will reveal where weaknesses in the system caused or allowed the abuse [the boy] suffered and enable the implementation of measures to prevent such heartbreaking tragedies from recurring.”