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AG to boost training on child abuse

SANTA FE, N.M. — Attorney General Hector Balderas said his office plans to increase the training it provides to school and medical personnel to help them identify signs of child abuse and human trafficking after a recent case showed the training can be effective.

He announced the expansion Friday alongside city and law enforcement officials following a recent case where a school nurse, who had the training, reported suspicions to authorities. That resulted in an investigation and arrest of a man on suspicion of prostituting a 7-year-old female relative.

“We believe now we have the test case that actually shows that it can save lives,” Balderas said. “We think that this case is a real driver and we should be able to get more training in more communities.”

Deputy Attorney General Sharon Pino said the office started providing the training in 2015. They have given it to several hundred people each year at a human trafficking conference and they have also provided the training to others in different settings.

She said the office will offer the training to employees at the three largest school districts in the state – Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces – and then expand into other areas around New Mexico.

Specifics about who will pay for the training and when and where it will be offered weren’t available on Friday. Pino said the course takes about 2½ hours.

“I’m hoping that it will begin to stream in to some of the smaller, rural communities,” Balderas said.

A nurse who works at an Albuquerque school last month reported suspected abuse to the Attorney General’s Office. The office in 2017 had given the nurse the human trafficking training.

The Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation and ultimately arrested James Stewart, 37, on suspicion of human trafficking, child abuse, promoting prostitution and other crimes, and Teri Sanchez, 37, on child abuse and contributing the delinquency of a minor charges.

The case has raised additional questions about systems in place to help identify possible child abuse. The Children, Youth and Families Department and law enforcement had many contacts with the girl and her family dating back to 2012.

“Certainly as a system there is no argument that this should never have happened and that we let down that girl,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said. “There’s a whole lot of improvement to be done.”