CYFD advisory council holds first public meeting

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Too many New Mexican children lost their innocence and even lives while moving through a statewide system that should be protecting them. That is why a recent executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham prompted immediate change within the Children, Youth, and Families Department, improving its divisions and creating a new advisory council.

“Everybody’s so busy doing the work in front of them that nobody’s stopping to kind of look down at the foundation,” Acting CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados said during the department’s first council meeting Thursday morning.

Every council member agreed their priority is to care for New Mexico’s most vulnerable population. That requires adding new jobs.

“A new cabinet secretary, deputy secretaries for our youth services, deputy secretary for behavioral health services,” Casados said.

CYFD plans to hire a new marketing and communications director, to boost transparency, and a foster family liaison as well. In addition, CYFD heads will take a deeper look at which parts of the system are working and which are not, with an out-of-state audit. They have also been catching up on payments to out-of-state providers.

“We did over 900 payments,” Casados said. “I am hopeful that those payments are now current.”

CYFD advisory council members are bringing their firsthand experience to the table, one as a former foster youth.

“I talked about how I’m lucky to be here, but we need to remove luck from the equation for our New Mexico youth,” council member Kenneth Stowe said.

Another council member, Barbara Yehl, introduced herself as a former foster parent.

“I have seen the needs firsthand for children in New Mexico and for families who are trying to take care of them,” she said.

Community members questioned whether this is enough representation for the group the council serves. They also wanted to know how CYFD plans to recruit and hold onto foster families.

“We engaged with the local marketing firms to develop a recruitment plan,” Casados explained. “So, we’re giving that plan to the advisory council and they will be looking at that and determining if that is the right course of action.”

“We’re really focusing right now on taking care of existing foster families and making sure that we’re meeting their needs, whatever those are,” she added.

There is no end date on the governor’s executive order. CYFD said it will take recommendations as they come from the advisory committee and work with lawmakers ahead of next year’s legislative session to sign more permanent changes into law.