We applaud the governor for signing the Family Representation and Advocacy Act, which establishes the Office of Family Representation and Advocacy (OFRA), an independent office to provide quality legal representation to children and families in cases involving allegations of abuse and neglect. Managing, standardizing and monitoring performance and outcomes is key to improving the effectiveness of legal representation for families.
Legislation that created OFRA comes from three years of work by the Family Representation Commission, a group of legislators, child welfare stakeholders and advocates. It received near unanimous bipartisan support at the legislative session.
Following best practices, the office will house interdisciplinary teams of attorneys, social workers and parent mentors to honor families’ rights, strengthen parents’ ability to care for their children, and avoid family separation when possible. Teams will address the conditions that bring families into the foster care system, which are typically related to poverty – 73% of cases in New Mexico are due to neglect. This is important because family separation is traumatic for children and should not be the solution for struggling with housing stability, childcare, food insecurity and physical/mental health.
Harmful narratives aim to convince us all child abuse and neglect cases are horrific incidences perpetrated by disgraceful parents and family reunification is bad. These narratives prompt laws to punish the worst individuals but are ineffective at addressing the root causes of abuse and neglect and supporting families.
Child abuse and neglect comes from a complex and painful history, and it should never happen. However, sensationalized narratives prevent productive public discourse, keeping us focused on punishing parents and moving children into a broken system. OFRA and quality legal representation are solid first steps on the long road to achieving real community change – a change that creates community-centered approaches that address poverty and truly support families.
NMCAN is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit focused on young people impacted by foster care.