NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Back in 2020, 13 children in New Mexico’s Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) Foster Care system filed a class action lawsuit against the state over conditions that they had to live in. This included sleeping on CYFD’s office floors.

“These young people were being placed in homeless shelters as a placement of first resort, instead of with foster families. These children were not receiving mental health care that they were entitled to under the law.”

Sara Crecca, one of their attorneys said these 13 children represented the 4,500 kids in CYFD at the time demanding action.

“The purpose of the lawsuit was to reform our system, to bring in trauma-informed care, to train the child protective service workers,” Crecca said.

CYFD eventually settled, promising change and a transformed system for the thousands of kids in their care. Such as reforming the mental and behavioral health system, adding more CYFD staff, and paying them better. Plus, better placements for foster care children.

However, two years later, change has yet to be seen. A new report by three experts hired by the state reveals CYFD did not meet its requirements. The report stated CYFD needs to improve in all areas of the settlement, and they did not meet a single one of the 34 target outcomes.

It pointed out the system needs to stabilize its workforce, add more foster families, and strengthen its behavioral and mental health services.

Although there has been some improvement within CYFD, the report showed it did not accomplish what it needed to in 2021. However, Crecca believes the state can still turn this around, “I believe that even though the report is a negative finding for the department, these agencies, with the support of the Legislature and the governor, can still fulfill the promise to the children in the settlement.”

Statement to KRQE from CYFD

New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department and Human Services Department continue to make the improvements required by the Kevin S. settlement agreement to overhaul the state’s child welfare system. A team of consultants who serve as intermediaries between the plaintiffs and the state issued its annual report on the state’s progress throughout the 2021 calendar year. The Co-Neutrals’ report can be found here.   

“We’re proud of the meaningful work and accomplishments that our staff and partners have achieved throughout the last two years — but we are continuing to push hard to make every change needed to ensure that every New Mexico child in the CYFD system receives the very best care possible,” said CYFD Cabinet Secretary Barbara Vigil. “While we have more work ahead, I am certain we are on the right path.” 

“HSD has made significant efforts to expand healthcare access for children in state custody,” said David R. Scrase M.D., Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Human Services Department. “From establishing a special managed care organization for these children in the recent Medicaid plan for 2024, to more than doubling the number of behavioral health professionals serving our Medicaid customers — we are devoted to improving the health of New Mexico’s children.” 

From the Co-Neutral’s Report: 

“The State continues to work on its Kevin S. commitments in 2022 and this report on progress through December 31, 2021, does not provide a current or comprehensive picture of all the current work underway in 2022.” 

According to the report, “Some of the States’ achievements in 2021 included: 

  • “Substantial completion of a comprehensive Data Validation Plan  
  • “Development of a plan for recruitment and retention of Resource Families  
  • “Publication of Guidance Prohibiting Retaliation  
  • “Development and promotion of a Warm Line for Resource Parents  
  • “Collaboration with New Mexico’s Nations, Pueblos, and Tribes leading to the passage in 2022 of the New Mexico Indian Family Protection Act (IFPA), which codifies into state law provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)  
  • “Reinstatement of ‘No Reject, No Eject’ language in certain Medicaid Contracts 
  • “Finalization of Notice of Action and Grievance Protocols for Denial or Delay of Recommended Services”  

“These are significant accomplishments,” the report said. 

While CYFD and HSD met two target outcomes, the departments did not meet the majority of the targets assessed in this report that were to be completed by Dec. 31, 2021. However, “in many areas, the State has made efforts and progress in 2022 that are not fully detailed in this report because they extend beyond the period under review.” The Departments are confident that the significant reforms already implemented throughout 2021 and 2022 are serving as a strong foundation for the additional ongoing work of both agencies.  

Story continues below:

Highlights of CYFD and HSD’s ongoing work through 2022 include: 

  • New Mexico has reduced the number of children placed in out-of-state facilities from 65 in March 2019 to 17, as of today. The goal is to keep all children and youth who are in state custody within New Mexico and in family-like settings. 
  • In 2018, the percentage of kinship placements was 14.8%. In 2022, it stands at 41.6%. These types of kinship placements provide more stability for children than other types of placements, such as foster care. 
  • In full collaboration with the leadership of New Mexico’s nations, tribes and pueblos and the state, the Legislature passed the Indian Family Protection Act in March 2022. The legislation, which is among the strongest in the country, guarantees protections for Native American children and families, preventing the arbitrary removal of Native American children from their homes and Tribes, and ensuring that Indian children retain critical connections to their culture. 
  • CYFD has worked with tribal partners to eliminate barriers to foster parent licensing for Native American families, including, for example, removing financial barriers for required equipment, and clarifying that traditional housing that is consistent with tribal community standards (such as homes with dirt floors) is acceptable, and more.  
  • CYFD enhanced its grievance procedures to make it easier for children and families to raise concerns and have those concerns resolved. 
  • CYFD has successfully rolled out new assessment tools that better inform case managers about children’s needs. Together, the Crisis Assessment Tool and the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths tool support decision-making for staff members, families, and providers. The CAT guides staff members in crisis situations, and the CANS identifies the services that children and youth will require once they come into state care. 
  • HSD and CYFD have worked diligently to develop a statewide, community-based mental health system that all children and families can access, regardless of where they live. The system includes diverse community-based services that will decrease reliance on congregate care, keep families together in their community, and greatly reduce out-of-state residential placements.  
  • HSD continues to expand the Behavioral Health Network for New Mexicans including for children in state custody by increasing Medicaid behavioral health outpatient reimbursement rates by approximately 30%. 
  • As a result of the state’s efforts, HSD has seen a 103.8% increase in number of ‘Core’ Medicaid Behavioral Health Providers and an 87.9% increase in Medicaid Behavioral Health Prescribers since 2017. 
  • HSD is establishing a special managed care organization for children in state custody in the recent Medicaid plan for 2024 

The governor’s office released this statement:

Since Day 1, Gov. Lujan Grisham has been clear about the critical importance of reforming the broken systems serving New Mexico children that have been neglected and underfunded for generations. In response to your question – no, such systems are not acceptable to the governor, which is why she has dedicated historic resources and directed systemic changes to CYFD, HSD, PED and other agencies that touch New Mexico families. The governor has also made it 100% clear to Secretaries Scrase and Vigil that the Departments must continue to build on the actions already taken to truly overhaul New Mexico’s child welfare system into one that serves as a national model. The governor will continue to provide every available resource to these agencies, as well as every agency that serves New Mexico’s children and families, to ensure the safety and success of every New Mexico child.” I would also add on background that the report details the Department’s activities in 2021 and does not encompass any of the work done by state agencies in 2022. As the report notes: “The State continues to work on its Kevin S. commitments in 2022 and this report on progress through December 31, 2021 does not provide a current or comprehensive picture of all the current work underway in 2022.