NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Lawmakers are calling for more oversight of the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department, claiming all decisions about children in the system are made internally with no transparency or accountability.
Two lawmakers say they believe the system is broken and is failing to keep children safe. State Rep. Rebecca Dow believes creating a process for people to appeal certain CYFD decisions through an independent hearing officer could help.
“It’s an agency with a governor-appointed secretary and they do not have an independent appeals process,” Rep. Dow explained. “The purpose of an independent administrative appeals process would be to address potential retaliation and to resolve licensing disputes and decisions made by CYFD.”
Rep. Dow tried pitching a similar bill last year. She says this hearing process would apply to anyone associated with the child, including law enforcement, a foster parent, caseworker, or other family members. She argues the current appeals process doesn’t have many teeth because people have to petition CYFD directly, meaning the agency is judging itself. Rep. Dow hopes new CYFD Secretary Barbara Vigil will be more open-minded to changes.
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Meanwhile, Democratic Lawmaker Jacob Candelaria introduced a similar bill last year in the senate that also failed. Rep. Dow said he’ll try again this year. “This department either needs to be completely broken apart or reshaped, or some serious independent oversight needs to be brought into play,” Sen. Candelaria explained.
Rep. Dow said some lawmakers are pushing to bring in someone to look at CYFD policies that need to be reformed.
In the following statement, the governor’s office responded about the effort:
“[CYFD] is currently bringing on a third-party expert to facilitate a review process, along with a broad variety of stakeholders at the table, to identify policies, procedures and practices within CYFD that need to be addressed and improved upon. This review will serve as an integral step toward revising how the agency works internally, as well as with children and their families. The administration is working collaboratively with legislators throughout the process, which will build on new grievance processes put in place at CYFD in the past three years that previously did not exist, including ones crafted specifically with input from youth with lived experience with the department and CYFD foster parents.”
Rep. Dow said she’ll only support the effort if that person is independent of CYFD.
A spokesperson with CYFD provided the following statement on Monday regarding its transparency efforts:
“In collaboration with others, the Children, Youth and Families Department is currently exploring forming a steering committee to look at ways to strengthen guidance and accountability of the agency. It is imperative that any oversight structure be effective in serving the interests of the children and families of New Mexico.
“It is too early to know what the ultimate structure would be and where it would best reside in the structure of state government. CYFD is committed to being transparent throughout the process while providing confidentiality for the families and child victims we work to protect each and every day.
“CYFD is committed to engaging in this process for system improvements.”