Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE — A new report issued by legislative analysts in New Mexico questions the accuracy of information shared this summer by former Children, Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock.
It says child maltreatment rates in New Mexico were the sixth highest in the nation in 2019 — the last year with full data available — not below the national average, as stated in a July presentation.
The nine-page memo also found that New Mexico’s child abuse death rate more than doubled in 2020, that high turnover within CYFD is likely impairing its performance and that child-welfare oversight mechanisms “have shortcomings.”
A memo outlining the findings was delivered to high-ranking lawmakers last week after legislators and others raised concerns about transparency and data shared during a presentation by Blalock in July.
In a brief interview Wednesday, Blalock said the data in question came from the state Department of Health, as noted in his presentation. He said he and others within CYFD took steps to ensure they shared accurate information with legislators.
“Every presentation in front of a legislative body or anyone else — that data is vetted by the data teams,” Blalock said.
Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, called the legislative memo “scathing” and said it illustrates the need for more meaningful public reporting by CYFD.
“I was stunned by the amount of misinformation we had been given by this agency,” Matthews said Wednesday.
She was among the state lawmakers this summer who asked legislative analysts to examine the department’s data.
In the July presentation, Blalock submitted a slide stating that “New Mexico is below the national average in both child abuse-related fatalities and child maltreatment,” based on state Department of Health data.
But analysts and staff for the Legislative Finance Committee said in their memo that New Mexico’s child maltreatment and child safety measures rank among the worst in the nation. In fact, they reported:
n The maltreatment rate in New Mexico stood at 16.9 per 1,000 children in 2019, sixth highest in the nation and well above the national average of 8.9.
n The rate of child maltreatment fatalities in New Mexico more than doubled from 2.3 per 1,000 children in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
n New Mexico has the second-highest percentage of children suffering from repeat maltreatment in the nation. In 2019, about 12% of the state’s children who were victims of maltreatment had another case of maltreatment within six months, higher than every state but New York.
Blalock stepped down in August, citing a desire to support his wife’s job opportunities in California. He had faced criticism over the department’s use of a secure messaging app and the agency’s handling of high-profile child abuse cases, in addition to a whistleblower lawsuit.
But Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said the agency had made a host of improvements under Blalock, such as reducing staff vacancy rates and completing child abuse investigations more quickly.
Lujan Grisham appointed former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil to succeed Blalock.
The legislative report noted that the department has had four different Cabinet secretaries in four years.
Charlie Moore-Pabst, a spokesperson for the Children, Youth and Families Department, said the agency is under new leadership and will analyze the legislative memo..
The department “will approach this issue, and all of its work to protect and improve child wellbeing with a commitment to transparency, collaboration and accountability,” Moore-Pabst said. “The department will fully analyze the LFC memo, including the supporting data, in addition to the previously presented information and take any steps deemed necessary upon that full analysis, including reporting back to the legislature.”