As a new governor moves into the New Mexico Roundhouse, the secretary of one of the state’s highest profile departments is sharing her perspective about her work and the department’s future.
Secretary Monique Jacobson’s has led the Children, Youth and Families Department for nearly four years. Her nomination drew both praises and criticism as a professional without a background in social work overseeing the state’s children and family services department.
While overseeing 2,200 employees, Jacobson has also led the department during the time of some of New Mexico’s most notable and horrific cases of child abuse.
Notably, the deaths of Victoria Martens, Jeremiah Valencia and Ariana Romeo have occurred since Jacobson’s nomination was announced on December 22, 2014.
“There are times I wish that things that we had worked to do had been done more quickly,” said Jacobson.
Jacobson has never been shy about her approach toward the department.
“Our goal has been to really change the culture at CYFD,” said Jacobson.
She notes accomplishments like the recent opening of a centralized Albuquerque campus for CYFD, where the department is expected to consolidate offices by next year, providing more spaces for families and children who are slated to go to foster homes.
Jacobson says she’s also proud of expanding CYFD’s reach, increasing case workers by 30 percent, and offering more assistance.
“Nearly 5,000 more children getting child care assistance, increasing the budget by $79 million,” said Jacobson. “We have increased prevention programming significantly.”
But Jacobson also acknowledges the grisly cases of child abuse that happened on her watch. The secretary says tried to push the department to critically review and analyze high-profile cases.
“We’ve made a point, a very deliberate point at looking at all aspects of the system and asking ourselves what more can be done,” said Jacobson.
In several high-profile cases, CYFD found case workers made appropriate decisions with information they had at the time. Jacobson says they’ve also found a critical number of parents leaving kids with the wrong caretaker or that CYFD wasn’t hearing enough from people who suspected and reported abuse.
Those situations, Jacobson says, led CYFD to aggressively promote its #SAFE abuse reporting hotline to the public and promote the expansion of child-care assistance programs, getting parents help in taking care of their kids.
“We always came out of every one of those situations with clear action items and steps we were going to take to improve things moving forward,” said Jacobson.
Jacobson says she ultimately has no regrets in the way she ran the department.
“My focus was always on what can we do moving forward, how do we make this stronger moving forward,” said Jacobson.
Secretary Jacobson says she plans to start her own business, continuing work in areas of child and family services from the private sector.
Democrat Governor-elect Michelle Lujan-Grisham has yet to name a future secretary for CYFD.