NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – For years, New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department has come under fire for failing to protect the most vulnerable New Mexicans. Now some lawmakers are pushing a controversial idea to improve CYFD’s performance. The proposed bill is supported by CYFD. It would limit police officers power in CYFD custody situations.
When there is trouble in a home, and a child is in danger, it is often a police officer who makes the decision to take a child out of that home, but some experts who work with foster kids, said this is a mistake. “Really as you can imagine it creates a lot of trauma,” said Co-Executive Director of NMCAN, Ezra Spitzer.
Ezra Spitzer with NM-CAN, a nonprofit that works with foster children helped write senate bill 128. He thinks “trained” professionals should be showing up to scenes, not cops. “Police generally have law enforcement background and they’re not trained to assess those situations. They’re the ones who will take custody, that custody goes through CYFD,” said Spitzer.
The bill would take away authority police have when they show up to a situation. They would rely on CYFD to determine when a child needs to be taken into custody. The head of the Albuquerque Police Union disagrees. “This is not even a band aid. I think it exacerbates the problem,” said President of Albuquerque Police Officers Association, Shaun Willoughby. “CYFD doesn’t have the resources or the infrastructure to be dispatched to calls like this.”
The police union said they have specialty units trained for these situations. “Right now, if an officer gets dispatched to a case where the officer feels that the child is in danger, they do what’s called a 48-hour hold then they will take physical custody of the child right there on the scene and they’ll immediately call CYFD,” said Willoughby.
But Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill said police should be a last resort. “Of course, there’s times when police are absolutely necessary. They are a critical part of our society. There are times when that’s going to be the safest response,” said Sen. Correa Hemphill.
Right now, this bill has been tabled. Sen. Correa Hemphill is also proposing a task force made up of CYFD workers, social workers, and police officers to come up with ideas on how to better protect children in our state. The Albuquerque Police Union says its officers respond to child abuse calls as many as 25 times a day.