NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The Children, Youth & Families Department is about to undergo an overhaul. It comes amid a series of child abuse deaths involving children and families CYFD had been working with and some heavy criticism of the agency on what was and wasn’t done.
CYFD Secretary Barbara Vigil is promising big changes. She took the job in August and two months later was answering questions about the death of a one-month-old in Valencia County. That child’s death was allegedly caused by his mother who had called 911 a week earlier saying she feared she would hurt her kids. A CYFD social worker failed to follow up.
After that case, the secretary made a promise to take a good look at the department. That report is now in. “It is easy to say in hindsight why didn’t you do a,b,c? If that employee didn’t have tools or resources to make best judgment that they could under circumstances, then that is important for us to address that. That is what this is all about,” said Secretary Barbara Vigil.
It revealed high turnover and extreme workloads resulting in burnout and lower quality work. New workers with little or no experience being pushed into the job too quickly, a lack of tools, and support for the front line workers along with a fear of punishment and lack of support from superiors.
They’re also creating new critical incident teams to review serious injuries and child deaths and joined a national team that will help CYFD formulate better strategies. They will also address CYFD’s decision-making tool used on scenes of suspected child abuse or neglect that has come under fire time and time again.
That tool was questioned in the case of 4-year-old James Dunklee, who amid evidence of physical and sexual abuse, was returned to his mother’s care with a safety plan. He died within months. More recently that tool was questioned in the death of a 16-year-old special needs girl who allegedly starved and was left to wither away by her mother. Mom was charged with neglect in 2019 and after her latest arrest, detectives didn’t understand why a CYFD worker didn’t want to take her four other children away.
Secretary Vigil says cases that result in serious injury or death will continue to be evaluated and investigated individually. They are working to build their staffing with incentives but with it being a challenging job, it’s hard to find people who want to do it.