I have always paid close attention to New Mexico’s child welfare system. For the first time in 10 years of being in the New Mexico Senate, I’m happy to report I have confidence in the direction the Children, Youth and Families Department is taking. Politics and failures of the past have no place in the future of our most vulnerable children.
Since entering the Senate 10 years ago, I have set out to reform CYFD by passing critical legislation that:
• Gives family the first right of refusal to foster the children, since family is most aware of the problems and the biggest source of referral to CYFD, and as a way to dramatically increase the number of available, trained and equipped foster homes;
• Allows for out-of-home activities to help the child participate in personal, social and emotional growth;
• And adds supports for young adults aging out of foster care at the age of 18, providing housing, transportation, employment, health care, understanding of consumer credit and assistance when in legal jeopardy, among other reforms.
But there is so much more to do.
I grew up in the foster system, and I have seen how it can fail children—and how it can help strengthen and heal them. Now, as a state senator I have seen how enormous and complicated child welfare can be.
The vision I have for CYFD is exactly where I see the department moving under the leadership of Secretary Barbara Vigil. Vigil and I both know it is all New Mexicans’ responsibility to keep our children safe. We can do this by supporting birth families and doing whatever we can to preserve those bonds.
Whenever it is safe and possible, CYFD seeks to place children with family members rather than with unfamiliar foster parents. I know that it’s less scary and disruptive for the children and can reduce PTSD in the long run. In 2018, the percentage of kinship placements was 14.8%. In 2022, it stands at 41.6%.
I, like all New Mexicans, want to make sure CYFD is held accountable. I fully support the historic changes being made, including:
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• Vigil’s willingness to invite national experts to study CYFD and make a set of recommendations in the areas of people, process and technology will dramatically move us in the right direction while maintaining our New Mexico culture.
• CYFD joining the National Partnership for Child Safety, a national collaborative effort that will build effective strategies to protect children from harm.
• A focus on a stronger workforce that includes improved training strategies and tools for the staff and for CYFD’s partners.
• Salary enhancements that require a wide range of soft, technical and emotional skill sets.
• Engagement with our state universities to bring a focus to this career path.
• New Mexico rebuilding and expanding our behavioral health care system to serve all young people.
Is there more work to do? Absolutely. This part of our New Mexico family is a journey which may have no destination. Continuous improvement is my expectation, and one that I will have for as long as I live. I owe it to my foster brothers and sisters. I’m encouraged by what is taking place at CYFD. I defeat the staff to stay the course.