ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Undocumented immigrants may be licensed to serve as foster care providers, as may people with criminal histories not related to child abuse, according to updated regulations for licensing foster care providers in New Mexico revealed Friday by the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
“We’re removing unnecessary barriers that have prevented us from immediately placing children with family members, especially those who they already know and love,” CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock said in a news release issued by the department.
“When children come into foster care, they have already experienced trauma. Being placed with strangers can mean additional trauma … that we can avoid when kinship placement is a priority,” he said.
More thorough background checks will be conducted for all caregivers, including those who are undocumented. “All placement plans include emergency and backup provisions so that there are clear steps should a placement dissolve, and that includes when children are placed with undocumented relatives,” said Annamarie Luna, acting director of CYFD’s Protective Services.
The updated regulations also clarify the process for prospective foster care providers with criminal histories not related to child abuse. The requirements exceed the federal standards related to criminal histories by setting additional protocols for evaluation of crimes that are not automatic disqualifiers, according to CYFD.
Additionally, the updated regulations limit the number of foster children that can be in any one home to six, and up to eight children in total, with exceptions for sibling groups, teenagers in care who are parenting, and others.
CYFD said the updates were crafted in conjunction with the American Bar Association and are in line with federal law and best practices. They are designed to better serve children who have experienced abuse or neglect by helping their extended family members become licensed foster care providers for them in a timely manner, Blalock said.
In New Mexico, one in 11 children lives with at least one relative who is undocumented, according to the American Immigration Council.
The latest research suggests that children who are placed in kinship foster care tend to perform better in school, have better behavioral and mental health outcomes, are more likely to maintain connections with siblings, extended family and community, and are less likely to reenter the foster care system after being returned to their parents, said Joseph Garcia, president of Leaders Uniting Voices Youth Advocates of New Mexico, which advocates for young people who have experienced foster care.
In response to that research, child welfare systems nationwide are shifting to prioritize kinship care, said Heidi Redlich Epstein, a senior staff attorney and director of kinship policy for the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law.
“New Mexico’s updated regulations are some of the most diligent I’ve seen in the country as far as following the Federal Families First Act to ensure that they can place children with relatives,” she said.