SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After the governor vetoed a bill that would create independent oversight for the Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), not many people were happy including her own political party. Her solution? A policy advisory council, made of members she selected.

That group met for the first time Thursday. The seven-person council says they are focusing on the department’s workforce and foster families—both keeping the people they have and improving their recruitment efforts.

“Today is our first meeting of this esteemed group…The work that we’re asking of them is hard work, no doubt,” says Teresa Casados, acting secretary of CYFD.

This policy advisory council includes people with diverse backgrounds to figure out how to fix the myriad issues with CYFD. It includes experienced service providers and advocates who have worked with families; a former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice who used to run CYFD; and people who have fostered and adopted children from the system before, and been in the system themselves.

“The reason why I’m here is very simple, and it’s this. This is all of the paperwork from my systems involvement between the ages of four and 22. This is foster care. This is youth shelters. This is juvenile justice. It’s all right here in this about five inches of paper. During those years I went through a lot and I’m very lucky to be in this room with you all,” says Kenneth Stowe, policy advisory council member.

“I’m just ready to see actual change happen and I want to be a part of it and see things happen,” says Barbara Yehl, policy advisory council member.

“They reflect the complexity of the partners that are involved in the child welfare system. So, the work that all of you guys do together will be to advance the goals of creating stability quickly for our most vulnerable population,” Casados says.

Right now, Casados says that entails building the workforce, reducing caseloads, and getting their workers competitive salaries; as well as trying to recruit more foster families.

She also highlighted other changes already in the works—like the creation of a grievance system for families to voice their concerns, and the commencement of an out-of-state audit to take a deep look at the department.

When asked why these seeming no-brainer actions hadn’t already been happening, Casados explained CYFD got lost in the day-to-day. “They’re easy things for us to immediately fix which is what we’re trying to do so if we get those taken care of it gives us time to really focus on some of the larger issues that need to be addressed,” Casados says.

Despite the optimism at the table, there were several audience members voicing their concerns: asking why this council was needed since several other advisory committees have already existed, and asking why CYFD is in this position.

Future advisory committee meetings will not be open to the public, but we’re told they’ll be reporting monthly to CYFD about their findings.