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CYFD has power; what it lacks is focus

The Journal’s editorial “CYFD Needs More Legal Teeth to Keep Kids Safe” (July 31) gravely mischaracterizes some of the major problems in the child welfare system. Make no mistake, CYFD has legal teeth. The state has awesome power to intervene in the lives of children and their families. It can file a case on any family in New Mexico and ask the court to mandate services. With that power comes both obligations to children and families, and due process protections – and for good reason. We want checks on the state’s power to remove children from their homes. Think how you would feel if the government came to your home and removed your children.

In the past, CYFD sought legislation to give the department a pass on its responsibilities to make reasonable efforts and to remove the important due process protections families receive in court. This approach would do little to improve the outcomes for children. CYFD knows what to do. It should put resources into building capacity to make informed decisions about how to keep children safe. It should partner with other departments and providers to (en)sure there are quality, appropriate and integrated services available to enable CYFD to work with families from the initial referral. It is at that point that CYFD can assist the family, and do the real work to prevent child abuse and neglect. Instead, CYFD has proposed putting money into a court-lite process. Courts cannot build capacity within CYFD. Courts do not link families to services. But CYFD can, and must, do both.

Where and how our money is spent matters. CYFD should be putting our money into ensuring that children and families get the services they need up front. Early, positive interventions are the key to protecting children. And when that is not sufficient, CYFD should act swiftly to protect children, using the robust legal teeth it has in current New Mexico law.

Bette Fleishman is an attorney and child-welfare law specialist. She has represented hundreds of children as guardian ad litem and youth attorney.

 

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