New Mexico lawmakers, advocates discuss the future of CYFD

[anvplayer video=”5164658″ station=”998122″]

SANTA FE, N.M. — This legislative session, nearly a dozen bills have been introduced to address concerns surrounding the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they’ve been trying to reform CYFD for years without much luck. It appears some state leaders were hoping the department would fix its own problems with more funding and resources, but more and more legislators say they’re tired of seeing the same horror stories.

“If CYFD doesn’t want to prioritize the well-being of children first, we will come in and legislate that they do,” said Sen. Crystal Diamond.

Legislators and child welfare advocates agree that the problems need to be addressed.

“We must act now,” said Erica Poindexter, New Mexico Child First Network board president. “How are we going to continue to let the clock run out on providing solutions for our children?”

Activists believe the first step is increasing transparency.

“We need to change the laws in New Mexico that will allow the people of New Mexico to see what is really happening,” said Alison Endicott-Quiñones, legal director of Advocacy Inc.

House lawmakers are already working to do that with House Bill 10, which would force CYFD to disclose more case information with certain agencies and courts.

Some state lawmakers believe the agency’s problems run deeper.

“It’s not at the local level that we have problems, it’s the structure,” said Sen. David Gallegos.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is hoping to address those structural issues with a new executive order, reorganizing how certain issues are handled inside the department.

“We appreciate the governor’s executive orders, but it doesn’t go near far enough,” Sen. Diamond said.

Diamond is behind several proposals modifying CYFD operations.

Senate Bill 107 extends the deadline for caseworkers to complete investigations and requires judges to get involved after a child’s second home removal in six months. It cleared the Senate floor Thursday with unanimous support.

“This bill complements her orders,” Diamond said. “It will not resolve all the problems within CYFD, but it is one of the many state steps that we will begin to take.”

Some advocates argue the governor’s order distracts from the potentially most impactful solution – external oversight.

“It’s keeping it inside the agency, we can’t expect to fix a broken agency from inside,” said Maralyn Beck, New Mexico Child First Network executive director.

Republicans and Democrats are also championing a proposal to establish an Office of the Child Advocate inside the Attorney General’s Office, otherwise known as an ombudsman.

New Mexico is one of just four states that doesn’t have a child welfare oversight agency. Diamond said that era must end.

“We cannot trust CYFD to monitor themselves,” Diamond said. “We need outside eyes on the agency and we need to start putting children first.”

Advocates said they are thrilled lawmakers are paying close attention to CYFD, but they’re worried the effort could go to waste if the bills don’t start moving forward. There are just 21 days left in the legislative session.