CYFD oversight bill moving forward at the Roundhouse

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Several bills to modify how the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department operates have already cleared floor votes at the Roundhouse.

Both Democrat and Republican leaders say it’s clear CYFD can not be trusted to oversee itself. That’s why almost every representative on the House Health and Human Services Committee signed off on a proposal to establish the Office of the Child Advocate Wednesday.

It was the first win for House Bill 11, which many advocates and lawmakers believe is long overdue. There are nearly a dozen sponsors on the legislation.

Advocates say New Mexico is just one of four states without a child welfare oversight department.

HB 11 would create the Office of the Child Advocate, otherwise known as an ombudsman. According to the bill, the office would review CYFD services and operations, investigate and review complaints, subpoena witnesses, operate a toll-free hotline, and make recommendations to the department. It is also tasked with compiling all of those findings into an annual report.

During Wednesday’s committee hearing, state lawmakers revealed previous efforts to establish CYFD oversight were delayed because department leaders asked for more time to fix their own problems. Now, lawmakers say – time’s up.

“They cannot fix themselves,” Sen. Crystal Diamond said. “They cannot monitor themselves and they’re not putting children first. We need to have outside eyes, to come in here and really examine how we are going to restructure and redefine. The entire agency needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Track HB 11 during the legislative session.