SANTA FE — Legislation moving forward at the Roundhouse would require New Mexico’s child welfare agency to conduct a family assessment when a newborn suffers from drug withdrawals and the parents don’t comply with a hospital-issued plan of care.
The proposal, Senate Bill 150, passed the state Senate without a dissenting vote and heads next to the House.
“This ensures the state keeps a close on eye on vulnerable newborns and the family receives the support they need to thrive,” Republican Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs told her colleagues.
Action on the bill comes as legislators weigh strategies for preventing child abuse and neglect in a state with high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. A host of proposals targeting the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department are under debate at the Capitol.
The legislation taken up Monday would make it mandatory — not optional — for CYFD to conduct a family assessment in certain circumstances.
Under the current system, when a child is born with symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or drug withdrawal, the family and primary care physician get a written plan of care intended to connect the parent and child with services after they leave the hospital.
The Children, Youth and Families Department is notified if the family fails to comply with the written plan.
But after that, a family assessment by CYFD is optional, not mandatory.
Kernan’s bill would require the department to conduct a family assessment to determine the likelihood of danger to the child’s well-being and again offer services to the family.
The department could also launch a more formal child abuse or neglect investigation if warranted.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, supported the bill but said lawmakers may need to take action to streamline the process of getting services to families. A hospital, health care company and CYFD, he said, may all be involved when a child is born to parents with a drug problem.
“It’s like a relay race where you’ve got a slippery baton — too many opportunities to drop it,” Ortiz y Pino said.
The proposal passed without a dissenting vote even as lawmakers said more should be done.
“I think we need a lot more bills that bring accountability to CYFD,” Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said.