It is monitored by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, which works with law enforcement and district courts.
It starts when there is an allegation of abuse or neglect of a child by a household member.
Once an allegation has been made, law enforcement has the authority to remove a child from a home if the child is deemed to be unsafe, according to CYFD spokesman Henry Varela.
“Law enforcement can give us a 48-hour hold,” Varela said. “We can look for a family member who has come forward who is safe, or we request longer custody and place the child with a foster family.”
With more than 2,000 children in foster care in New Mexico – and fewer than 1,000 certified foster families – there is always a need for more foster families, Varela said.
And CYFD is always recruiting.
How to be a foster parent
A foster family can be a single person, a same-sex or opposite-sex co-habitating couple, or a married couple, said social worker Jared Rounsville, a division director of CYFD Protective Services, in an email.
Foster families go through 32 hours of training and a process of interviews and home visits. Any adult living in a home where foster or adoptive children are placed must also complete the course.
It usually takes between four and six months for the process to be completed and the family to be certified.
Once all the adult members of a family have been certified, they can learn about children they might foster or adopt by looking at their profiles on CYFD’s website, cyfd.org, or at the website of heartgallerynm.org.
The Heart Gallery project features photographs of adoptable children and their stories in displays around the state, including at Albuquerque International Sunport, The Pit and several Wendy’s restaurants.
CYFD also promotes the profiles of children available for adoption, generally older ones with special needs or part of sibling groups, in newspapers, including The Sunday Journal, in an effort to better their chances for adoption.
Trying to keep families together
While a child is in foster care, CYFD is working with the biological family with the goal of teaching its members how to better meet the child’s needs. In an effort to rehabilitate and reunify the family whenever possible, a district judge would determine what skills-building services biological parents need before allowing the return of a child to his or her family, Rounsville said.
For example, the child’s biological parents might need mental health counseling, parenting classes, drug rehabilitation, job training skills or other help.
The average amount of time that a child is in foster care is 16 months.
“Every situation is going to be different, but depending on what type of services the court has approved, that is generally what takes time before the judge makes that decision,” Varela said.
CYFD tries to keep siblings together whenever possible.
If a district judge rules that the biological family has done as required, he or she can then send the child back. If the parents have not done as ordered, the child can then be deemed by a judge to be free to be adopted into another family.
In Bernalillo County, as of March 2014, 193 children were available for adoption.
Children become eligible for adoption if parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, or if a judge legally terminates those rights once biological parents have failed to comply with getting services.
When an adoptive family is found, the adoption must be legalized.
Then, “an adoptive parent has all the legal rights and responsibilities of an adopted child as any biological parent would,” Rounsville said.
In 2013, 262 adoptions were finalized in New Mexico.