New Mexico makes interim head of state’s struggling child welfare agency its permanent leader

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The temporary head of New Mexico’s embattled foster care and child welfare agency has officially been given the job, the governor said Monday.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Teresa Casados has been appointed permanently as secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department. Casados has been interim secretary since April.

The Democratic governor said in a statement Casados has “left an indelible mark” at the agency in the past few months.

Casados said she was honored to take on the role. She took on the position after the departure of Barbara Vigil, a former state Supreme Court justice who started in October 2021.

New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department has faced controversy in recent years. In September, the department reached a $650,000 settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by two former agency officials.

Former CYFD public information officer Cliff Gilmore and his wife, Debra Gilmore, who headed the agency’s office of children’s rights, were fired in 2021. They said it happened after raising concerns about the agency’s practice of conducting official business through an encrypted messaging app and automatically deleting messages in potential violation of New Mexico’s public records law, according to their lawsuit.

CYFD admitted no wrongdoing or liability in agreeing to settle.

New Mexico’s repeat rate of reported child abuse cases is among the worst in the country, amid chronic workforce shortages in the child welfare system and high turnover among employees in protective services.

The state has responded in recent years with increased investments in services aimed at preventing abuse.

Republicans say they have been frustrated by Vigil’s departure and rejection of legislative proposals on child welfare.