SANTA FE – Legislation dubbed “Omaree’s Law” after a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy allegedly killed by his mother would require the Children, Youth and Families Department to take immediate custody of children who show certain signs of abuse.
House Bill 333, sponsored by Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and others was introduced on Thursday, six weeks after Omaree Varela died, allegedly after his mother kicked him.
The Senate, meanwhile, voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to look into the state’s handling of child protective and foster care services.
The Senate vote was 32-5 to request CYFD to report to lawmakers by November on a range of issues related to abuse cases and the placement of foster children.
House Bill 333 lists a series of injuries – burns, bruises, bite marks, and fractures, for example – that once reported would require CYFD to take a child into custody. A hearing would be held within 48 hours. If a court determined there had been abuse, under certain circumstances a child wouldn’t be returned until a parent was given counseling.
Varela and his family had at least two contacts with CYFD before he died. CYFD says it didn’t have an open case file on him at the time of his death.
The boy had reportedly disclosed abuse to school authorities about a year before he died. Last summer, Albuquerque police officers were at his home, checking out an abusive tirade against him that had been recorded on a 911 call.
The Senate-passed measure, Senate Joint Memorial 3, goes to the House. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, requests information including the number of cases handled over the past three years by CYFD’s Protective Services Division and where they were referred from, and the average number of cases social workers manage.
Opponents objected to CYFD’s spending time and money on the report, and they said the information was available without passing legislation.
Padilla, who spent time in foster homes as a youth, said he was working on the issue months before Varela’s death.