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Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has revoked the license of a not-for-profit that places high-risk children with foster families after discovering the business continued to house young girls with a family that was accused multiple times of sexual abuse and misconduct spanning nearly two decades.
In the past few months, CYFD investigators found that since 2000 at least eight girls, ranging in age from 6 to 16, had accused the foster father of some sort of sexual misconduct. And, investigators say, Familyworks had been aware of the allegations and continued to contract with the family.
In an interview with the Journal, CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said: “When I look at this, my heart just breaks for the fact that they had been foster parents for 20 years.”
One of the cases – a rape allegation from 2000 – was investigated by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and turned over the District Attorney’s Office. A DA spokesman said during the investigation that the victim recanted her statement and the prosecutor closed the case due to insufficient evidence.
Law enforcement agencies are now investigating both the foster family and the not-for-profit Familyworks.
Jacobson said the department began an audit of Familyworks after a 10-year-old girl reported that her foster father had touched her sexually last April. An investigator talked with two other young girls staying in the home at the time, ages 6 and 8, who said the man was “bad” and learned that one of them had previously reported abuse to a Familyworks therapist, according to court documents. That therapist is quoted as saying they didn’t report the disclosure to CYFD because it was “hearsay.”
“We feel like they were not providing adequate leadership and oversight,” Jacobson said. “They were not reporting serious incidents, and we uncovered concerns regarding supervision and treatment that was supposed to be occurring there. Really they were not taking the necessary steps to inform us and therefore prevent abuse from occurring.”
In mid-June – while the home was under investigation – the director of Familyworks continued to ask if other children could be placed with the family. When she was told no, she asked if boys could be placed there, since only girls were making allegations, according to court documents. That was also declined.
As for possible criminal charges, the Albuquerque Police Department has opened an investigation into accusations of sexual assault against the foster father, although a spokesman said he could not comment on it.
And the District Attorney’s Office executed a search warrant on Familyworks to determine whether “proper notifications of child abuse or neglect were made by the employees of Familyworks per state law, if Familyworks employees knew that this home was dangerous for children but continued to place the children into a dangerous place, and if documentation related to the care, treatment and safety of the children contains information about abuse or neglect that was not reported to CYFD or law enforcement or about a failure to comply with state regulations or state law relating to the safety of foster children.”
The DA’s investigator is also looking into whether there are other victims.
A spokesman for the DA’s Office said he could not comment on possible criminal charges against Familyworks.
“This is an active and ongoing investigation,” Michael Patrick wrote in an email. “We take these allegations extremely seriously. It would be inappropriate to discuss the details of this investigation until it’s complete and a determination is reached.”
The investigations began in mid-April when a 10-year-old girl told her school counselor that her foster father had touched her inappropriately while they were in his Northwest Albuquerque home, according to the search warrant affidavit filed in 2nd Judicial District Court. The school counselor told a CYFD investigator, and that investigator began digging.
What CYFD found was troubling.
The foster father, who had been licensed to receive children since 1997, had been accused of a range of sexual misconduct dating back 18 years. Jacobson said they could not say how many children had been placed in the home over the years but he and his wife are now barred from taking in other children. The couple declined to comment.
CYFD licenses businesses like Familyworks – which also has a business agreement with Desert Hills residential treatment center – to place children with families. In return, the families receive between $40 and $70 a day.
An employee at the drab stucco Familyworks building off Coors – still in the process of transferring foster children to other providers – referred all questions to Desert Hills. The CEO of Desert Hills did not respond to requests for an interview.
The DA investigator found that, in some cases, even when allegations of sexual abuse were reported to Familyworks by the children or the family, the business had not made a report to CYFD or law enforcement, according to the affidavit.
In other cases CYFD was notified but the allegations weren’t substantiated, according to the affidavit. Jacobson said CYFD’s preliminary review found that investigators followed procedures and policies in their dealings with the children and business.
“We will do a more formal critical incident review,” Jacobson said. “We have a process called the critical incident review process to look in a much deeper way into every action that we took as an agency – both in terms of prior investigations as well as in terms of our licensing and certification oversight areas within CYFD.”
But, she said, she’s pushing for more thorough investigations into prior allegations and histories in all cases, even if reports haven’t been substantiated.
“That’s something we are working really hard on within CYFD is to remind our investigators that when they get an allegation they need to look at all prior allegations so that they are looking at this holistically and making a determination about what is happening in that house,” Jacobson said.
And she commended the employees who followed up on the April incident, questioning what would have happened had they not been so persistent in uncovering the years of allegations.
“I do believe if it weren’t for the way CYFD investigators did handle this most recent case, just looking at all the steps that were taken and their level of persistence, I do believe this (alleged abuse) could have gone on for another 20 years,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson said her agency is still investigating how many children had been with the accused foster family over the years and how many children were placed into homes by Familyworks – a mid-sized facility. Currently, CYFD is working with 28 families and more than 40 children placed through Familyworks, a CYFD spokesman said.
All of the Familyworks homes are now under the process of recertification, Jacobson said. If the homes are determined to be safe for children, then the foster family and children will be moved to another treatment care provider.
“If the families are not clearing that process, then we would move the child into a different home under a different provider,” Jacobson said. “The families would need to be re-licensed under these new providers.”
Jacobson said CYFD is not necessarily worried about other families or treatment foster care providers, but that it is always working to improve and increase oversight over every part of the system.
Bryce Pittenger, the director of behavioral health services for CYFD, said the audit of Familyworks found there were numerous policies and procedures the business was not following in addition to not reporting every allegation.
“They were not providing adequate treatment, in terms of treatment that matched that child’s needs as well as treatment that addresses ongoing incidents,” Pittenger said. “If a child suddenly has a new behavior or if something is happening that treatment plan has to adjust and the therapist and team have to work in a slightly different way.”