Bid to boost oversight of child welfare cases gains

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The creation of a new independent office to oversee legal representation for New Mexico children and families involved in abuse and neglect cases is one step closer, after a bill calling for such a step unanimously passed its first Senate committee Monday.

New Mexico has long ranked among the worst states for child well-being, and backers of the proposal say it could reduce unnecessarily long stays in foster care for some minors.

“This is just going to be a game-changer,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, D-Albuquerque, just before the bill passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee 7-0.

The legislation, Senate Bill 127, would authorize the creation of the Office of Family Representation and Advocacy to oversee representation in child welfare disputes.

The office would be modeled after the Law Offices of the Public Defender, which was established as a stand-alone agency after voters approved a 2012 constitutional amendment.

A task force that was created in 2019 and tasked with improving legal representation in cases involving abuse and neglect of minors came up with the idea for an independent office, leading to this year’s legislation.

However, the creation of such an office would likely require additional state funding in future years, even though current state and federal funds could cover at least some of the cost, according to a fiscal analysis of the bill.

The analysis estimated that more than $7 million in new state funding would ultimately be necessary, and the bill approved Monday would not appropriate any dollars.

But a 13-member commission overseeing the new office would have until the end of 2022 to hire a permanent director. A temporary director could be appointed in the meantime.

Under New Mexico’s current system, more than 100 attorneys provide legally required representation under contract for children and families in abuse and neglect cases, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

That’s led to a system that’s fragmented and often frustrating to navigate, backers of the proposed legislation said.

And several parents and former foster children testified Monday that they met their appointed attorneys only a few minutes before court hearings.

“There’s a lack of consistency, there’s a lack of oversight, and there’s a lack of accountability” in how the lawyers operate, Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil testified.

The legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Share Your Story

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop


The nightmare before Christmas?
ABQnews Seeker
For New Mexicans thinking they'll just ... For New Mexicans thinking they'll just leave holiday shopping until the last minute this year, exper ...
Monsoon rains and no-till process a perfect mix to ...
From the newspaper
Monsoon rains and Monsoon rains and
Belen tracks down causes of massive water losses
ABQnews Seeker
Consultant's study blames faulty city systems, ... Consultant's study blames faulty city systems, aging infrastructure
ABQ vet helps rhinos in South Africa
ABQnews Seeker
Poachers are killing animals in unprecedented ... Poachers are killing animals in unprecedented numbers
141 mph on Coal, a too-short arrow, US 550 ...
ABQnews Seeker
NMDOT awaiting funding for US 550 ... NMDOT awaiting funding for US 550 fix
Eco-friendly upgrades coming to Sunport
ABQnews Seeker
Zero-emissions passenger shuttle buses among uses ... Zero-emissions passenger shuttle buses among uses of federal money
Courage and compassion hallmarks of vet's life
ABQnews Seeker
Jose Quintero risked his life to ... Jose Quintero risked his life to fashion an American flag in WWII, helped others at home
Dual brews of tax hikes on well-to-do
ABQnews Seeker
I am known for certain traits, ... I am known for certain traits, some positive, others negative. Starting with a negative, my family k ...
Take a pay cut to keep working from home?
ABQnews Seeker
Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a ... Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading ca ...