Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
On the heels of a new highly critical federal lawsuit filed by advocates for children, officials at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department say they have improved the state’s foster care system in recent years.
Without addressing the specifics of the 95-page proposed class-action lawsuit filed Saturday by 13 children currently in state foster care and two New Mexico nonprofit agencies, CYFD officials pointed out strides made in foster care since December 2015.
“When it comes to foster care, we are continuously working to improve the system overall,” CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said. “Although we have not yet been served nor had the opportunity to review this lawsuit, we have made much progress” in the areas of foster care mentioned in the lawsuit.
The proposed class-action lawsuit alleges that CYFD has failed to recruit, license and train an adequate number of people needed to ensure safe, supportive homes for foster youth, resulting in children being repeatedly uprooted and cycled in and out of short-term emergency placements, which sometimes includes government offices.
It also alleges that the state has failed to provide foster children with adequate mental and behavioral health treatment, creating more trauma for the already vulnerable abused or neglected children.
Varela said CYFD has had a net gain of 258 foster parents over the past three years, or a total of 1,325 people, as of August 2018, compared with December 2015, when the state had 1,067 foster parents.
He said the agency has 100 more protective services workers in the field than 3½ years ago and has reduced field worker turnover to as low as 25 percent, which is well below the national average for this type of work, Varela stated.
Varela cited a December 2017 report from the Casey Foundation, which cited an estimated national average turnover rate of approximately 30 percent. Casey listed New Mexico with a 25 percent turnover rate.
Last year, CYFD opened a kid-friendly receiving center in its San Mateo office, so children would not have to sit in sterile offices while employees sought foster families for placement. And beginning in December, in Albuquerque, children taken into state custody will be taken to a new $20 million wellness center, which will have cots and mats if they need to stay overnight before being transferred elsewhere, Varela told the Journal.
In addition, behavioral health clinicians are assigned to each CYFD office to screen children taken into state custody to “find the right treatment in the least restrictive environment,” Varela said.
The child advocates and their attorneys contend that New Mexico’s system of child welfare is in violation of several federal laws including the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Medicaid Act.