We read with a combination of sadness, frustration and anger another news article about our child welfare system failing children. While this article was about staff turnover, other articles are about a work culture of fear, or yet another infant falling through the cracks and dying, or how a mentally challenged parent can be screened by a social worker and allowed access to a child, resulting in yet another death.
There is no polite way to say this. We worked at CYFD for years, saw how the entire system was set up to fail, left our jobs to write the book “Anna, Age Eight: The data-driven prevention of childhood trauma and maltreatment” on how to fix child protective services based on decades of research. The book was written to prevent child fatalities resulting after a child was in and out of CYFD involvement eight times, only to be returned to a mother who kicked the child to death.
We waited patiently for child welfare leadership to invite us to ask how to implement the recommendations to fix their broken system. We sent “Anna, Age Eight” to all CYFD leadership through different administrations. We heard nothing. But we kept reading about horrific cases of child maltreatment and fatalities. We kept hearing of former colleagues quitting CYFD.
We wrote another book to provide a blueprint, a step-by-step guide, for how each child protective services office in each county can partner with local stakeholders to address the root causes of abuse and neglect. The book “100% Community: Ensuring 10 vital services for surviving and thriving,” is now used in 15 counties to grow the 100% New Mexico initiative designed to prevent child maltreatment. Our NMSU initiative, guided by the book, is focused on increasing the positive social determinants of health, which means we finally make sure that vital services are available to 100% of families. This not only will prevent maltreatment but also substance use disorders, crime, violence, school low achievement and about every public health and education challenge you can think of.
We read, as all New Mexicans do, article after article on CYFD’s failures that mean children were beaten and left to die. We also see articles lamenting the impacts of substance abuse. What we all too rarely see are articles talking about the root causes of these problems – trauma and the negative social determinants of health. It is possible to fix anything that a headline calls our attention to, but it takes political will and a commitment to social justice.
As researchers who are guided by data-driven solutions to the problems facing child welfare, public health and public education, we can only wait and hope that one day – someday – leadership within CYFD and their community partners commits to the science of problem-solving. Child welfare leadership can start by reading “Anna, Age Eight,” Chapter 5: An Infant, a motel room, and a pile of needles: The impossible work of child welfare pros. (It’s literally 25 pages.)
Or New Mexico can continue on its current trajectory, dooming our most vulnerable children and families. The choice is up to all of us. Do we continue placing Band-Aids on costly problems that will never solve them? Or are we, as a state, willing to come together to address root causes and, finally, create a New Mexico where 100% can thrive?