Updated: November 20, 2020 10:27 PM
Created: November 20, 2020 05:48 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Many worry child abuse could go unnoticed and underreported during the pandemic.
An internal memo sent out among the Children Youth and Families Department is celebrating a more than 90% decrease in pending investigations, since January.
But it’s causing some to wonder if that is truly a good thing. The pandemic has created a new set of challenges for just about every aspect of life. For children, that means spending more time at home learning online and less time in the classroom.
“So the people that we’ve trained in identifying child abuse and neglect are not connecting with these families that are most at risk,” said New Mexico House Rep. Rebecca Dow for District 38.
Rep. Dow said child abuse concerns have only increased during the quarantine months.
Cliff W. Gilmore, Public Information Officer with CYFD said referrals to the agency have remained steady.
“The teachers are now in school with their kids, virtually, but they are still watching for those sorts of things and they’re still referring when they think it’s appropriate,” said Gilmore.
While call volume hasn’t changed, an internal memo said CYFD is actually making advances. It reads that ‘CYFD has made great strides in the last few months to improve child well-being in New Mexico.’
In January 2020, the department reported 2,347 pending investigations. In August, that number dropped to just 135, a 94-percent decrease in investigations.
“What we’re talking about isn’t a decrease in the referrals, it’s a decrease in the backlog of cases, that’s been possible due to a collaboration and prioritization that has allowed the workers to really dive in and work across the state to help clear these cases out,” said Gilmore.
That backlog doesn’t represent the total number of cases, only those that have passed the 45-day mark. For all of August, the agency had more than 2100 cases including the 135 backlogged cases.
By clearing the backlog, he said the agency is moving them forward to help the kids who need it. But is that massive decrease a good thing? Representative Dow has major concerns.
“It is like record shattering low and it’s not reality,” said Dow. “I’m getting calls from caseworkers, from social workers from CASA advocates saying CYFD is not investigating and substantiating they’re simply reuniting and dropping any open cases. Its not reality.”
This week during the legislative finance committee she said San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow brought up a troubling surge in criminal cases involving minors, specifically sexual abuse.
“We have a feeling as to why we’re seeing an uptick in these cases with people being in lock down, people being home instead of schools, especially the children,” said Rick Tedrow, District Attorney for the 11th Judicial District.
In addition to a massive decrease in pending investigations the agency touts a 130% increase in protective services monthly visitations, or home visits. But because COVID-19 has impacted in-person visits, Gilmore said those are virtual visits.
“We have to make the contact the best we can,” said Gilmore. “One of the ways we’ve been able to overcome that is to increase frequency and just try and be in touch more often and just make sure those conversations are robust and we’re really getting a feel for what’s going on.”
Gilmore said it’s working. This pandemic has allowed them to access new tools and methods that will continue to move the agency in the right direction, starting with clearing that backlog.
But Representative Dow said it still seems a little too good to be true.
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