ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department has had its share of controversies over the years, especially when a child dies of neglect or abuse in our state. But now, a new report said the department is making big strides when it comes to keeping kids safe. CYFD is reworking many of its procedures and the department’s secretary believes they’re heading in the right direction.
Omaree Varela, James Dunklee, and Victoria Martens. Just a handful of recognizable names in our state following their stories of abuse, neglect, and sadly their deaths. The state’s Children, Youth, and Families Department has come under scrutiny and even been blamed for not doing enough in cases like these.
In a new 45-page progress report, CYFD outlines a new approach they’re taking to protect our kids. Secretary Brian Blalock said part of the problem was that there was no rubric on how to assess a child’s risk. “We rolled out a structured decision-making tool state-wide to be able to help our staff identify what those risk factors are so they can make better decisions in the field,” said Blalock. “But also for complicated cases that trigger supervisory view so for those complicated cases, they’re not in there alone.”
The department is also moving towards a so-called “trauma response model” in investigating cases in hopes of building more trust and communication with the families involved. “And what that involves is it moves from a ‘what have you done wrong?’ it moves from that to ‘what’s happened and how can we help?'” said Blalock.
CYFD has also made it a top priority to place kids with their family members if they can’t stay with their parents. When Blalock took over the department, he said roughly 4% were placed with family. Now, that number is closer to 40%. “We’re doing a much better job at asking children too,” said Blalock. “Saying ‘hey it’s not safe for you to be home right now. Where would you like to go? Where would you feel safe?’ It doesn’t necessarily mean we follow those wishes, but it helps identify relatives. It helps identify folks we can go through our processes and be sure that it’s safe and the child get there.”
The department was also drowning in a backlog of investigations, which kept them from focusing on new and time-sensitive cases. But now, they said they’ve cleared that up. “It’s a safety issue,” said Blalock. “If we in 45 days have not closed the case because we haven’t figured out what we need to do with the child, that potentially means that child is in that dangerous situation and we haven’t gotten to it yet. That’s never acceptable.”
The department is also upping their training, making sure their caseworkers are better prepared to assess different levels of abuse and neglect inside the home as well as identify potential risks for youth suicides.
Read the report below: