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A new ad hoc committee created to find ways to improve the state Children, Youth and Families Department includes lawmakers and child advocates among its members. But the public won’t be allowed to attend its meetings.
A CYFD official told the Journal a meeting of the “Enhancing Delivery of Services Steering Committee” scheduled for Wednesday in Santa Fe wasn’t open to the public and refused to permit a Journal reporter to attend online via a Zoom link.
The 24-member committee was to get an update regarding a still-confidential review by an outside consultant hired by the agency’s leadership to evaluate CYFD’s response to child fatality and critical incidents.
CYFD has refused to release the outside review publicly, citing “attorney-client” privilege. A spokesman for the agency promised last week the report from Collaborative Strategies LLC would be made public soon, after a review by CYFD attorneys.
The committee includes five state legislators, three state court judges, and representatives from Native American groups and child welfare agencies.
The new administration of CYFD Secretary Barbara Vigil pledged to increase transparency and accountability at the agency after she took over from Brian Blalock, who resigned last summer. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at the time his departure was a “mutually agreed-upon decision.”
Vigil ordered the outside review of the embattled agency’s response to critical incidents, including child fatalities, in January. And the CYFD steering committee was created about the same time. Its first meeting was in June.
The group’s second meeting was slated to address the outside review, CYFD grievance and complaint procedures, retaliation of employees, and an announcement about the steering committee on CYFD’s website, according to its agenda.
In response to a Journal reporter’s request to attend the meeting, CYFD children’s rights specialist Jennifer M. Martinez replied, “It is not open to the public. We are working to get information posted on our website about these meetings.”
Asked to explain, CYFD spokesman Rob Johnson later told the Journal in an email, “The steering committee is a group of CYFD staff and invited external partners. Our purpose is to have a free and open discussion about policy issues, especially regarding how the department can better deliver services. The meetings are for steering committee members only.
“While this committee, by definition, would not fall within the Open Meetings Act, one of the cornerstones of this committee is that it is open and transparent in its recommendations,” Johnson wrote. “We will post meeting minutes on the CYFD website.”
The group’s mission, according to the CYFD website, is to “take an informed measure of the public-child welfare system in New Mexico, then use those insights to help the CYFD enhance the delivery of services to state’s children and families.”
The members of the committee include chief judges of state District Court and Children’s Court in Bernalillo County, and Chief District Judge Angie Schneider of Alamogordo.
Of five legislators on the committee, all but one are Democrats. The legislators on the committee are: Sens. Linda Lopez and Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both Albuquerque Democrats, and Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. Reps. Meredith Dixon, D-Albuquerque, and Candie Sweetser, D-Deming, are also members.
Other members include representatives of the Navajo Nation, Isleta Pueblo, Acoma Pueblo and nonprofit groups that include Disability Rights New Mexico, New Mexico Family Advocacy Center, High Desert Family Services, New Mexico Dream Center, Advocacy Inc., NM Child First Network and others.
“While the background of the membership is broad, the focus is tight,” the website states. “The key is to concentrate on six specific areas – Courts (And Children’s Court Improvement Commission); Schools, Advocates and Community Supports; Parents’ Voices; Youth with Lived Experience; Native Children & Families; and Resource Families, Adoptions & Guardianships.”
The committee’s report will include public comment, the website states, and ultimately will be released to the public.