ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After serving as the state tourism secretary for a number of years, Monique Jacobson said she told Gov. Susana Martinez that she wished to be considered for the job of heading the state Children, Youth and Families Department – a wish she was granted.
“File that one under ‘be careful what you wish for,'” Jacobson said to laughter during Wednesday’s meeting of the Economic Forum of Albuquerque, where she was the featured speaker.
Jacobson offered the room of business and community leaders an overview of the changes she has initiated at the department during her three years as the CYFD cabinet secretary.
With 34 offices around the state and 2,000 employees, Jacobson set about to change the culture within the department by adopting some basic operating principles: Be kind, respectful and responsive, be child-centered and “never lose sight of the children you serve and are making decisions for,” support CYFD employees “but also hold them accountable when the bar is not met,” and simplify and do fewer bigger things that produce results.
Shoring up core functions was also essential, particularly in the Protective Services division, “the most difficult part of the agency,” Jacobson said. There, the employee turnover rate was reduced from 45 percent to 24 percent, the number of field workers increased by more than 30 percent with the hiring of 100 new people to conduct investigations, and the vacancy rate was also halved, from 24 percent to 12 percent.
CYFD successfully recruited an additional 250 foster parents over the last three years and increased the graduation rate among kids held in juvenile centers and in state custody.
A focus on community engagement resulted in the PullTogether.org campaign and website, which brings together in one place all CYFD and community resources to help children and families. It is used by more than 4,000 people each month.
A $30 million appropriation CYFD got from the state Legislature last session was put into early childhood services, primarily childcare assistance.
“I believe that is the single greatest tool we have when it comes to prevention of abuse and neglect,” Jacobson said. “It allows us to keep our children someplace safe and addresses the multi-generational issues we have getting parents to go to work or school and break the cycle they’ve found themselves in.”
While it is incredibly difficult to navigate the state’s procurement and contracting processes, CYFD is nevertheless doing more “to hold our contractors accountable by creating report cards, where we can connect our contractors to the same performance measures that we are going to be held to,” she said.
Under Jacobson’s leadership, CYFD uncovered “hundreds of thousands of dollars of fraud, abuse and waste occurring within the agency,” money that can now be diverted into the agency’s mission of “improving the quality of life for our children,” she said.