In less than two weeks, life in New Mexico for many has undergone drastic changes. As we all work together to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, daily life will continue to require adjustments. Where this is an especially stressful time for most people, it is catastrophic for families that were already experiencing hardships.
This is a reality that we at the Children, Youth, and Families Department are prepared to address with assistance and coordination. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made an additional $750,000 available to CYFD during the public health emergency to help support families. It is a mission we take very seriously. Our priority is to ensure we continue to deliver services and supports that help our most vulnerable families. We are doing so while implementing the best practice protocols for health and hygiene that are being provided by our governor and the N.M. Department of Health. And we are continually reassessing this work in very close collaboration with them. Here is some of what we’re doing:
• On March 11, when the governor ordered “nonessential” workers home, CYFD knew our definition of “nonessential” would be different than most agencies. We identified those employees who could complete their essential job functions from home and implemented that immediately. A priority was ensuring that those employees who deliver direct services could maintain social distancing at the office when they are there.
• Our Statewide Central Intake (#SAFE) has remained open 24/7 to take reports of suspected abuse or neglect.
• CYFD’s front line employees – case workers and investigators – have remained at work, taking extra precautions to keep children, youth, families and their fellow employees safe. We understand there is a lot of mixed information online, and our leadership team is working to communicate changes through official channels as the need arises.
• The department has worked closely with our law enforcement and judicial partners to ensure we continue to communicate and stay on the same page when it comes to serving the community. New Mexico courts have limited who can be in courtrooms and are not permitting most children to participate except by phone or video conference.
• As the pandemic has grown, we have ramped up efforts to keep both foster and biological families safe. Legally required visits are now taking place either via video chat or outdoors in open areas. In the rare instance a visit must be held in one of our visitation rooms, those rooms are being sanitized in between visits following DOH guidance.
• The Governor’s Office and other departments including CYFD are working diligently to make sure New Mexico’s 23 tribes, pueblos and nations are staying connected as much as possible. At CYFD one of the ways we are realizing this is working with the courts to make sure no major decisions are made regarding Native children in care without the tribe’s input. Courts are meeting this need for flexibility as each tribe enacts the best health and safety measures for their individual community.
• The state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department is working closely with child care centers, providing guidance to keep essential care open for our first responders and health care workers. The state will pay for medical costs incurred for any early childhood educator who contracts COVID-19. The state is also supporting working families who do not have the luxury of working from home. Early childhood educators are just as vital to the state’s response to the coronavirus as health care workers, fearlessly continuing to provide care.
CYFD has undergone many reforms in the last year. We have worked to make our system more flexible and adaptable to our families’ needs, and this is helping us respond to the crisis. Our leadership team is working around the clock to make necessary adjustments and changes to prioritize keeping families and employees safe. As the governor has said repeatedly, all options are on the table when it comes to stopping the COVID-19 outbreak in New Mexico, and we will continue to make necessary changes to meet this need.
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