Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
The state Children, Youth and Families Department unveiled its new Children’s Wellness Center on Thursday, part of its efforts to get all of its Albuquerque services onto a single campus.
The wellness center is part of a complex at Indian School Road just east of Carlisle that also contains a new Children’s Receiving Center and offices for the agency’s Statewide Central Intake.
On Thursday, CYFD Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson and Gov. Susana Martinez toured the new campus, a cluster of five former office buildings that will provide 230,000 square feet of space.
“We expect a lot from the people who work at CYFD, and we will continue to do so, but we have to give them the tools. We have to give them the workplace to do the absolute best for the kids of New Mexico,” Martinez said.
The new Receiving Center, which is about 13,000 square feet, was designed so kids who come into custody “have a warm, beautiful environment to wait while we’re looking for a foster placement, so they don’t have to sit in offices, or if they arrive in the middle of the night they’re not sleeping under desks,” said Jacobson.
“It’s a place where they are treated with the love and care and respect that all the kids in our custody deserve.”
The ultimate goal of the project is to relocate all of CYFD’s Albuquerque operations, now in three separate buildings, to one location, explained Jacobson.
Phase One of the project, funded by a $20 million allocation from the state Legislature, covers the purchase of the property, renovation of three of the buildings, and the cost of relocating all the services from CYFD’s building on San Mateo north of Central Ave., said Jacobson.
She noted that the 20-year lease on the San Mateo building expires at the end of the year.
About 400 employees are part of the Phase One move, which is expected to be complete by the end of January.
The move involves the relocation of Juvenile Justice field workers, half of Protective Service operations, the CYFD Training Academy, Statewide Central Intake, and a bigger and better equipped Receiving Center for children.
The Receiving Center contains a laundry room, showers, lockers, cots, a clothing exchange area, playrooms, quiet rooms where kids can decompress, a backpack wall where kids can select a backpack containing stuffed animals, writing journals, coloring books and other comfort items, and improved visitation space for families working to reunify with their children.
The Receiving Center building also houses larger space for Statewide Central Intake, which is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and fields about 40,000 calls a year from around the state concerning abuse and neglect. About 20 employees staff the phones at any given time in overlapping shifts.
“We also installed a completely upgraded phone system,” Jacobson said. “One of my big concerns is for people who build up the courage to call, and then the phone call gets dropped, or they’re waiting on hold and they don’t know how long the wait will be” so they may not stay on the line.
Jacobson said that she has requested $29 million from the state Legislature to complete the renovations to the rest of the campus and the relocation from the other two CYFD Albuquerque buildings.
Pursuing that will have to be the job of the next administration and CYFD secretary. Jacobson leaves office at the end of the year.
“A building is not going to solve all of the issues that we have,” said Jacobson, “but having a beautiful space for our children, our workers and our families does matter. It will bring a sense of dignity to all those who step onto this campus.”
Martinez recalled that she began working with CYFD 32 years ago as an attorney.
“The heart and passion of every social worker was there, but there was very little money, the buildings were dilapidated, children were sleeping under desks with blankets because it took hours and hours of phone calls at 2 a.m. Car seats? Didn’t even exist,” she said.
Inevitably, some kids who enter CYFD custody when they’re little end up later in the juvenile justice system, Martinez said. But having all of CYFD’s services in a single campus will allow easier communication and collaboration between the various components of the department and make it easier to “break that cycle.”
Martinez also said she was proud of the fact that, since she became governor in 2011, about 2,500 children have been adopted “and are now living in forever homes.”