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Traumas take toll on young lives

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The three brothers are still kids. They like riding bikes, doing gymnastics, flying a toy helicopter, playing with dogs.

In their short lives, though, they have watched their father kick and beat their mother. They’ve been neglected, and witnessed the death of their older sister in a fire that burned down their home. One of the boys was sexually abused.

The youngest tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana at birth.

They were taken into state custody due to neglect, but their sustained and repeated exposure to trauma left its toll.

And New Mexico’s foster care system, according to a newly filed federal lawsuit, did little to help them heal.

At age six, one of the brothers, Justin, has a history of self-harming, acting impulsively, and has post-traumatic stress disorder. He has reported auditory and visual hallucinations of his deceased sister. He has been on medications for nightmares and anxiety.

The oldest, Maddie, age 10, has difficulty managing anger and concentrating. He keeps thinking about his unstable home life and his parent’s drug use, and he worries about his little brothers. The youngest is not yet two years old.

According to the proposed class action lawsuit, their experiences illustrate the failings of New Mexico’s foster care system.

The two older brothers didn’t receive a neuropsychological evaluation for more than eight months. There was no timely and adequate therapy to address their grief, with Maddie waiting three months for individual therapy. Their foster parent abruptly canceled family counseling without adequate basis or oversight by CYFD.

The boys lasted seven months at the foster home before “outbursts” by Maddie and Justin’s “behavioral challenges” returned, and the three boys were removed by CYFD at the foster mother’s request in August 2017. They haven’t been housed together since.

The lawsuit contends that their treatment, or lack thereof, by CYFD led to their deteriorating behavior.

The trauma of being separated from one’s parental figures is often compounded by the trauma of being separated from one’s siblings, the lawsuit states. And the separation of siblings in foster care is linked to increased behavioral health issues, including running away.

For instance, 14-year-old Chris W., another plaintiff in the lawsuit, was close to his mother, who died of asthma in 2016. His father has been in and out of prison and is currently incarcerated. Chris and his two brothers were placed in state foster care because of their mother’s death, but Chris didn’t receive any individual therapy until he had been in CYFD custody for nearly four months.

Two years since entering foster care, he hasn’t been provided grief counseling. After CYFD failed to provide support for his foster parents, they asked him to be removed, the lawsuit states.

He’s been housed in at least nine different places since 2016, including short-term shelters and a residential treatment center. There, he was repeatedly restrained, and relocated nearly every night for months from one section of the center to another.

Chris went to a subsequent treatment foster care home, but CYFD couldn’t find any place that would accept him when that home wanted him out. He ran away and was missing for a month. Ultimately, he was housed in a juvenile detention center and is now living at an Arizona treatment center.

His goal, according to the lawsuit,”is to be reunited with his two brothers and to have a home.”

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