Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

CYFD lacks the leadership to protect NM’s children

New Mexico’s Children’s Youth & Families Department social workers need support and leadership. However, the recent Collaborative Safety review of CYFD revealed they are working under a “culture of fear.” Imagine having your job threatened while trying to save the life of a child or protect them from their abuser.

As a former Albuquerque Police Department child abuse detective, I have witnessed firsthand CYFD’s overwhelming case load. Social workers were so stressed from large case loads, knowing they may not be able to get to every case in time. I have also seen how wrong it is, with staff shortages, to have to decide which child gets prioritized for services. Every single New Mexico child needs to be a priority. But if your agency lacks leadership, is understaffed and overwhelmed, it is impossible to succeed.

Back then, our offices were integrated within CYFD. My colleagues and I worked daily with social workers and staff, establishing collaborative relationships with open lines of communication and the ability to rely on one another each and every day. It was a team effort allowing us to resolve critical cases more quickly, efficiently and effectively. I was also a member of the Child Fatality Review Panel; every year death prevention recommendations were sent to the governor and legislators.

CYFD needs leadership that will focus on child death prevention and poverty issues our families face on a daily basis; child suicide accounts for one third of our child deaths, and 25% of our children under 18 are living in poverty.

With true reform of CYFD, New Mexico’s at-risk children would have a better chance of receiving life-saving, time-sensitive support from social workers, law enforcement, nonprofits and the judicial system. There is a vast pool of retiring senior investigators from local and state law enforcement: we should allow for these fully trained people to work at CYFD as an immediate ready force to assist social workers with triage and investigations. Our juvenile court also plays an integral role in placement and foster care. It is very difficult to adopt or become a foster parent. It would be beneficial for kids in need of foster care, behavioral health and placement programs to streamline these systems immediately.

While I can provide numerous additional solutions, one I will work aggressively on when elected to Congress is ensuring CYFD, the Child Fatality Review Panel, law enforcement and our juvenile courts have priority access to federal grant funding. This will allow them to increase their staffing, update tracking systems, and ensure they have the tools and resources they need to protect New Mexico’s children and do their job effectively.

In New Mexico, we have the reputation of having some of the most horrific homicides of children. News stories about the Victoria Martens case should have been a wake-up call for each and every elected official to act. Yet our governor and Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury remain silent on this issue. When they ran for office, they claimed they would be leaders who would help children. If they were truly leaders, they would help CYFD to succeed, lead our children to succeed, guide our families to succeed and support an economy that would lift our families out of poverty. That’s what leaders do; they lead you to succeed.

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