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Editorial: The opposite of foster

The revelations are absolutely stunning.

Allegation upon allegation upon allegation of child rape, molestation and other inappropriate behavior made against the foster father since 2000, and yet he was allowed to continue fostering vulnerable children.

And even after the state Children, Youth and Families Department began connecting the dots and sounding the alarm this year, the not-for-profit that had been placing high-risk children in his care still didn’t get it.

Indeed, the director of Familyworks – the non-profit in question – continued to ask if other children could be placed with the family. And when she was told no, she asked if boys could be placed there, since only girls were making allegations, according to court documents. The answer was an emphatic no.

Still, the mere fact that the Familyworks director was asking those questions is troubling. Troubling because it suggests she was more interested in filling vacancies in that home than looking out for the best interests of the children her organization was supposed to be protecting. It’s difficult to not jump to the conclusion that Familyworks cared more about keeping government dollars flowing than protecting kids, and that is inexcusable.

CYFD was right to revoke this nonprofit’s license, and this foster family’s authorization to house children. But it must also dig deep and examine its role in this mess. Because at the end of the day, this facility operated under CYFD’s umbrella, and these vulnerable children were entrusted into CYFD’s care.

To be sure, children in treatment foster care have had difficult starts in life and can and do make false allegations. Although a criminal investigation is underway, no criminal charges have been filed against this foster father or anyone else in this case. And in our criminal justice system, people are innocent until proven guilty.

That notwithstanding, when the well-being of a child is at stake, CYFD and everyone in the CYFD system – and that includes contractors and subcontractors – must go above and beyond to ensure they’re safe and not being placed in sketchy homes where they may be preyed upon. It’s hard to believe that anyone was looking after the well-being of the kids placed in this home, considering the pattern of allegations spanning nearly two decades and involving at least seven girls ranging in age from 6 to 16. Those allegations include:

• In May 2000, a 16-year-old girl reported the foster father had raped her and grabbed her. The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office investigated and turned the case over to the District Attorney’s Office. A DA spokesman said the victim recanted her statement and the prosecutor closed the case due to a lack of evidence.

• In October 2012, when a 15-year-old girl was admitted to Desert Hills residential treatment center, she reported that the foster father had brought alcohol to her room and raped her. That was reported to CYFD; it’s unclear if police were told.

• In February 2013, a 12-year-old reported that the foster father had grabbed her by the arm and dragged her through the house. CYFD was notified; it’s unclear if police were told.

• In November 2015, a 10-year-old girl reported that the foster father had raped her. CYFD was notified, but a Familyworks employee noted “we only reported because we had to, not because we were concerned.” No safe house interview was done, and police weren’t notified.

• In August 2017, a 6-year-old girl reported to the foster mother, who in turn reported to Familyworks, that the foster father had touched her vagina. No report to CYFD or law enforcement could be found.

• In December 2017, the foster family reported that the same 6-year-old had said her vagina hurt. No report was made to CYFD or law enforcement.

• In April 2018, a 10-year-old girl reported that the foster father raped her. The disclosure was reported to CYFD and set off the audit and investigation.

• In June 2018, an 8-year-old girl who had been living in the home was given a safe house interview and reported that the foster father digitally penetrated her.

Given this string of allegations, it’s incredible that no one spotted the pattern earlier – or if they did, that they continued to send children to this home.

Not everyone in this story comes off as a villain, though.

A school counselor and a CYFD investigator who recently learned of the alleged abuse did their jobs.

According to a search warrant affidavit, 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. The school counselor told a CYFD investigator, who began digging and stumbled upon the previous alarming 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,” CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said.

And that also begs the question why no one at her agency connected the dots earlier. After all, four of the allegations of rape and molestation occurred during Jacobson’s tenure as CYFD secretary. She says CYFD officials are working really hard to remind 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.”

Unfortunately, we’ll likely never know whether anyone at CYFD is held accountable, since the agency refuses to identify public employees who mishandle cases or to elaborate on specific discipline imposed.

As for Familyworks and the foster family, they are now the targets of a criminal investigation.

Familyworks was licensed by CYFD and also had a business agreement with Desert Hills residential treatment center to place children with families. The District Attorney’s Office executed a search warrant on the non-profit to determine, among other things, whether “proper notifications of child abuse or neglect were made” by the entity’s employees as required by state law.

One can sympathize with Jacobson for the enormous job she has of keeping vulnerable children safe.

But at the end of the day – whether CYFD was aware of every one of the allegations against the stepfather or not – the system that the agency operates allowed this family to continue to take in vulnerable kids, despite horrifying allegations. Jacobson and her investigators need to get to the bottom of how exactly something like this can happen and put a fix in place that minimizes the possibility of this type of thing happening again.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.