SANTA FE – New Mexico legislators are delving deeper into the problems facing the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department, seeking more information after the Dec. 27 death of a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy.
A proposal calling for CYFD to report historical data on foster children and abuse cases won approval in a Senate committee Friday, but not before the agency’s director said the request could be onerous on the already-understaffed department.
“If I’m going to be pressed to support or oppose (the request), I’m going to have to oppose it,” CYFD Secretary Yolanda Berumen-Deines told the Senate Public Affairs Committee.
The agency has struggled in recent years with high turnover and vacancy rates. During a recent yearlong period, CYFD hired 314 workers but lost about the same number due to staff turnover, Berumen-Deines said.
CYFD would not receive additional funding to conduct the report, which would be presented to a legislative committee later this year. A fiscal analysis of the proposal estimated it would cost $60,000 to complete the report.
While members of the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 3-2 to advance the proposal – Senate Joint Memorial 3 – to the Senate floor, they scaled back some of its terms.
Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, who is sponsoring the proposal, said his push for detailed CYFD data is not politically driven.
He said he came up with the idea last year, before the Dec. 27 death of Omaree Varela. Varela, who died after allegedly being kicked by his mother, had reportedly disclosed abuse to school authorities about one year before his death.
“This is data that’s incredibly important and if it’s not available we probably want to know why,” said Padilla, who lived in several foster homes while growing up.
However, other members of the Senate committee did ask questions Friday about the details of the Varela case. Berumen-Deines said she could not answer some of those questions since the case against the boy’s mother is pending in court.
Several other CYFD-related bills have been introduced, including a measure calling for tougher background checks for foster parents.
Meanwhile, Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has proposed giving pay raises – of various sizes – to CYFD caseworkers during the coming budget year and hiring more investigators.