Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
In the aftermath of revelations that at least seven girls reported that the same foster father had sexually assaulted them – and that the nonprofit that placed children in his home did not take seriously multiple other disclosures of abuse over the years – the licenses of both the family and the business were revoked.
But when the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department examined its own history with the foster family, it determined the department’s investigators had followed policies and procedures in the prior investigations.
CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson said the department will conduct a more thorough critical incident review after the criminal case investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department is completed.
“We don’t want to be in the position where we’re making excuses for things that should not have happened to children having happened,” Jacobson said in a recent interview. “But we also do have to look at, did we take the steps that, per policy and procedure, we are required to take? If we did, and we didn’t catch this, why? And what needs to change moving forward?”
Jacobson said one thing that keeps coming up is that historically, CYFD investigators have tended to look only at an individual allegation to determine whether it could be substantiated, rather than look for patterns of past accusations.
“Without speaking specifically to these investigations, it is something we’ve been working to change,” she said. “We don’t want investigators to look at allegations in isolation but to gather as full a picture as possible and make sure they’re looking at it in a manner that tells the whole story.”
Police had been notified when accusations of abuse were made in the past, and at least one case had been forwarded to the Crime Against Children Unit.
But it is unclear from incident reports what happened in those cases, and APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos did not answer several emailed questions about the outcome of any of those accusations and whether the prior accusations were taken into account a new one was investigated.
Police Chief Michael Geier did not respond to calls seeking comment.
In response to questions about whether the chief or anyone at APD is reviewing its officers’ interactions with the foster family, Gallegos sent a statement that read: “Our detectives are working closely with the District Attorney’s Office and CYFD to investigate all allegations. We will share details once the investigation is complete.”
Mayor Tim Keller’s office did not answer questions about whether he has directed APD to review its prior interactions with the foster family in this case.
Instead, Alicia Manzano, the mayor’s spokeswoman, emailed a statement that said, “Albuquerque has faced heartbreaking cases involving children. That’s why Mayor Keller directed APD to review policies aimed at protecting children and to improve cooperation between different agencies. APD is working with the DA and CYFD to fully investigate this case.”
Last April, after a 10-year-old girl accused her foster father of touching her sexually, a CYFD investigator quickly discovered there had been other allegations of abuse, dating back to 2000, according to court documents. None of those previous allegations had been substantiated by CYFD investigators.
But CYFD workers immediately removed the girl and two other young foster children from the home and substantiated their disclosures of “sexual penetration, molestation and emotional abuse” against the foster father, according to court documents.
Then, because of the prior allegations, CYFD began an audit of Familyworks, the not-for-profit business that had been contracting with the family.
Familyworks employees referred the Journal to Desert Hills treatment center, because it has a business agreement with the center. The CEO of Desert Hills did not respond to messages seeking an interview or comment.
The audit ended with CYFD finding that the business had not followed procedures, had in some cases failed to report claims of abuse and hadn’t been providing adequate treatment, Jacobson said.
Familyworks’ license was revoked last month.
Then, Jacobson said, she also wanted to determine whether CYFD workers’ investigations that found no substantiation of the abuse claims in the past were thorough and done correctly.
A team of experienced CYFD investigators conducted a preliminary review – similar to the review they did in an unrelated case earlier in the summer when, authorities say, a 7-year-old girl was trafficked by her close relatives. In that case, the review found several lapses in the way investigators handled previous calls.
But this time, Jacobson said, the team found that CYFD investigators had done what they were supposed to do. That means they cross-reported accusations to law enforcement, consulted with therapists and treatment providers, and conducted safe-house interviews with the children when necessary.
Jacobson said investigators also had escalated the cases to a higher-level staffer after two investigations were made into the foster family – a policy put into place after the high-profile child abuse death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela in 2013.
“We looked at those high-level policy procedures: Were we following what we’re expected to do in these types of situations?” she said. “These investigations and our initial look shows it was followed and we did do investigations as would be expected.”
But, Jacobson said, the investigator in the most recent case took a wider look at the foster family’s history than previous investigators, which exemplifies the attitudes CYFD is trying to encourage in its employees.
The investigator was “patient and persistent in terms of recognizing that it can take time for children to disclose things that have happened to them,” she said. “It can take time for children to open up and be more comfortable talking about things that happened in their past.”
When abuse allegations against the foster father were reported to CYFD, the department cross-reported each case to law enforcement, as is the policy, Jacobson said.
But law enforcement records could not be found for all of the accusations listed in court documents, and it’s unclear whether police investigated every call.
In 2000, Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies investigated a 16-year-old girl’s claim that the foster father had raped her. The girl later recanted, and the case was closed due to “insufficient evidence,” according to a spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque.
In October 2012, a 15-year-old girl reported that the foster father had touched her inappropriately, according to a police incident report. The officer interviewed the girl and her therapist, and the girl recanted. The case was forwarded to the Crimes Against Children Unit, but it is unclear what happened next with the investigation.
In February 2013, a 12-year-old girl reported that the foster father had grabbed her arm and dragged her into another room, and a Familyworks employee reported the allegation to APD, according to a police incident report.
The report says that the officer talked with the therapist and was told that there were no prior reports of abuse at this foster family’s home. It’s unclear from the report whether the officer looked into the family’s history independently, which included at least two previous calls to law enforcement about sexual assault allegations.
In 2015, a 10-year-old girl reported that the foster father had raped her, and in 2017 a 6-year-old reported that he had touched her vagina. Those allegations were detailed in court documents, but no report of those incidents could be found at the APD records department.
The most recent case was reported in April 2017, when a 10-year-old girl told school counselors that the foster father had raped her. When CYFD investigators talked to two other girls staying in the home, the previously mentioned 6-year-old and an 8-year-old, those girls also said he was “bad,” according to court documents. APD is actively investigating this case.