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The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office announced the beginning of “Operation Educational Encouragement,” initiating countywide welfare checks to ensure students are attending their online classes, as well as focusing on investigating incidents of abuse and neglect.
“The intent of this is not to hammer the parents, but to educate them … telling them why it’s important for their children to make contact with the schools and making sure that they’re all right,” Sheriff Manuel Gonzales said Tuesday.
Gonzales said the operation came to fruition when counselors, among others, began calling substations to report students who haven’t attended their online classes. Now, the state Children, Youth and Family Department is sending referrals to BCSO for welfare checks.
“From Day One, the objective has been to be supportive and not punitive, which I think is a very important way for families to ask for assistance when they need it,” said Charlie Moore-Pabst, a spokesman for the CYFD. “We won’t open a report on them, we’re just here to find out what’s keeping those kids from getting the education they need and bridging that gap any way we can.”
Sheriff’s deputies were attempting to follow up on at least 70 referrals Tuesday afternoon. Joining them are deputies from the Safe Child Unit, Special Victims Unit, and Gang Recognition and Intelligence Patrol Unit.
“It’s critically important that parents, students and guardians participate to the fullest extent possible right now,” said Monica Armenta, an Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman. “In order to make sure students are receiving the best possible education and taking advantage of the resources available, they have to show up.”
BCSO Sgt. Amy Dudewicz said the Sheriff’s Office’s priority isn’t to make arrests or issue fines during this operation, but if there is evidence of neglect or child abuse, the agency will address it.
“In addition to that, if there’s something that we can bring to the table or a resource that we can provide, we will work with a lot of different outside stakeholders from our department to try and do that,” Dudewicz said.
Educational neglect, Dudewicz said, is often paired with physical neglect.
“People are more and more concerned about kids that are at home, whether or not they’re being supervised; parents are being pressured into having to go to work,” Dudewicz said. “We don’t want all of that to deter from the mission … making sure kids are safe.”
To report abuse or neglect, BCSO recommends calling 1-855-333-SAFE or #SAFE from a cellphone.