NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – CYFD is promising big changes to the agency following some deadly child abuse cases and some allegations that CYFD didn’t do enough to protect those children. Some of those people making allegations say they’re hopeful but still concerned.

Rachel Berenson represents James Dunklee‘s grandfather in a wrongful death lawsuit against CYFD, claiming CYFD failed them as he fought to protect his grandson from his mother, who is accused of allowing the abuse of her son by her roommate. “Something very drastic needs to happen for something to occur in this department. It’s critical our children need it,” Berenson said.

Berenson has read and agrees with the new initiatives outlined by CYFD Friday to improve the system, including building staffing, reducing caseloads, overhauling training protocols, creating new critical incident teams to review cases, and using a common sense approach when evaluating what’s next for a child, not just a checklist. “We are enthusiastic and hopeful however, I will say that many of the changes that are in that report are very similar to changes that they’ve promised in the past,” said Berenson.

Through her lawsuit, Berenson uncovered what she calls massive mistakes and then a massive coverup to try to hide those mistakes. Dunklees’ caseworker testified that she fought to keep him in custody, but her supervisors told her no. Then after his death, he destroyed evidence in the case, including pictures and notes taken by that caseworker.

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Some of those caseworkers have been with the department for decades. Berenson believes the culture at CYFD needs to be addressed. “What concerns me is if we have a culture of fear which they recognize in the report, if we have higher-ups creating this culture, then what are they doing to excise those dangerous higher-ups,” Berenson said. “It should be an immediate change of guard, in my opinion.”

Berenson, like many, recognizes the immense pressure these workers are under, how tough this job is, and the mountain of cases they are tasked with tackling. But the bottom line is that this is too important not to fix. “Because of the caseloads and because there isn’t follow-up, children die.”

Berenson also brought up the issue of having more educated caseworkers trained for the trauma these kids are suffering and the trauma they will endure by dealing with these cases. CYFD says it is tackling these issues and providing incentives for people to want to do this job, like educational leave and loan repayment. It’s also addressing some of the other issues Berenson brought up.

CYFD sent detailed answers, which are listed below.