CYFD leaders face tough questions as lawmakers seek solutions
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico lawmakers had tough questions for leaders of the Children, Youth & Families Department Thursday morning. Members of the Senate Finance Committee did not hold back.
Cabinet secretaries from CYFD and three other agencies impacting children presented their plans for improving childhood well-being in New Mexico.
However, it was clear state lawmakers wanted to talk about their concerns with the CARA program, also known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. It’s a voluntary program that’s meant to help families with newborn babies exposed to drugs or alcohol.
The program has been around since 2019, but a recent legislative report found nearly 42% of families did not know they had a recovery plan – and for the families who do know they have plans, the report found the state does not regularly follow through with treatments and services.
Our 4 Investigates team has pointed out problems with tracking those plans, and department leaders acknowledged Thursday that there is not one state agency that oversees the program. They suggested that’s part of the issue, but state lawmakers were surprised that revelation didn’t come with solutions.
“In the interim legislators have discussed all summer long how we are going to come in and fix this broken agency, and to have the agency itself arrive now, while session has started, without any proposed solutions for us, is extremely disappointing,” said Republican state Sen. Crystal Brantley.
Brantley, a fierce advocate of CYFD reform and oversight efforts, submitted a bill this year that would require CYFD to conduct family assessments if those families don’t follow their CARA recovery plans.
House Republicans submitted a nearly identical bill, and it appears Democrat lawmakers are also working on a similar initiative.
It’s not clear if the governor will let those bills move forward since she has her own plan for CYFD. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is asking state lawmakers for nearly $25 million to create a new family services division at CYFD, and part of that funding would go to the CARA program.
CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados said Thursday that she is not against increased transparency and oversight, but doesn’t believe it is time for state lawmakers to get involved.
“Like I said, I’m not opposed to transparency, I just have asked the governor that this legislative session if we can refrain from submitting legislation to give us an opportunity to truly determine what is needed at that agency,” Casados said. “Much of the work we can do through policy or through rulemaking, through holding our staff accountable. It’s not work that has to be done through legislation.”
Some state lawmakers believe it’s time to take CYFD out of the governor’s hands.
Four Democrats have filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the cabinet secretary position and put a three-person commission in charge. The governor would appoint one of those commissioners and state lawmakers would pick the other two.
Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the governor would not be able to stop it if state lawmakers decided to go down that route. New Mexico voters would make the final decision.