SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After years of criticism, leadership changes, and public scrutiny, New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) is trying to make changes to protect children. They recently gave an update on those efforts to state lawmakers.
CYFD is the main government agency responsible for foster care and handles a broad range of child safety issues throughout the state, such as juveniles who enter the justice system, child abuse, and early childhood mental health. In a recent meeting with legislators, the acting department secretary re-affirmed that the department is working to improve – and that doesn’t just mean asking for more money.
“I don’t want to come in and just ask for millions of dollars,” Acting CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados told lawmakers in a Legislative Health and Human Services Committee meeting. “In all honesty, we’ve reverted money over the last several years, so I’ve asked for budget authority to really be able to move money from program to program . . . so that I could make sure that we are adequately spending the money that the taxpayers and the legislature have entrusted to the department.”
Casados pointed out several efforts CYFD has taken recently to boost staffing and staff qualifications. That work included a hiring event to fill over 200 vacancies.
“We identified the positions that were critical to success, and then we held a rapid-hire event,” Casados said. “We had over 200 vacancies just in Protective Services. . . we had 575 people come to our rapid hire.” Of those, CYFD sent out 110 job offers, Casados said.
CYFD is also looking to boost key funding to help foster families. That includes asking lawmakers to double the amount of the back-to-school stipend the state gives foster parents to help kids start the school year.
Getting down to tougher issues, Casados says CYFD is working on getting foster kids into more consistent, permanent care. “We see kids too often being bounced from house to house to house to house, and we want to stop that,” Casados said.
To end that cycle, CYFD is hoping to put more time into finding homes that fit foster children. The plan is to hire case aides to take over some of the work case investigators currently do. Then, the case investigators can spend more time finding homes that fit the children. And those case investigators with the most experience will work on the cases with the most challenging placement situations, Casados explained.
CYFD is also planning on getting some help from the Department of Health (DOH) to make sure foster children are safe. “Any child that comes into state custody will have a ‘well-child check’ within 30 days,” Casados said. “So, we’ve brought an individual on staff to just manage those appointments,” Casados admits the program is off to a slow start, but says DOH will help do health checks on those children if CYFD can’t find a doctor to do the checks.
Overall, lawmakers seemed supportive of Casados’s plans. However, some expressed concern regarding certain issues CYFD might need more focus on.
Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Bernalillo & Torrance) asked Casados what the plan was for helping pregnant individuals with substance abuse issues (addressed by a program known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, CARA). “We can’t keep giving drug-addicted babies back to parents that are drug-addicted,” Lord said. “It’s not working.”
In response, Casados says CYFD wants to create a CARA-dedicated program with new hires to be in contact with families. Casados says CYFD has been in contact with care providers to try to get more resources for addicted family members.