ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More New Mexico children are suffering repeated abuse or neglect even after intervention by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
In the state fiscal year that ended June 30, slightly more than 11 out of 100 children who were found by CYFD to be maltreated were abused or neglected again within six months.
That was a jump of nearly 50 percent in two years, the highest rate of repeated maltreatment in at least eight years and well above the national standard, according to government statistics.
There were 1,440 substantiated cases of repeated child abuse or neglect within six months in the state fiscal year ended June 30, up 38 percent from 1,044 in the previous fiscal year.
The total number of child abuse and neglect reports has also been on the rise, as well as the total number of all substantiated cases of child maltreatment.
Meanwhile, despite recent wage hikes for workers and increased employee recruitment efforts, the Protective Services Division of CYFD still has a large number of job vacancies.
As of the first of this month, 155 of the 925 positions in Protective Services weren’t filled, for a vacancy rate of nearly 17 percent.
Jared Rounsville, director of Protective Services, says heightened public awareness and reporting of child abuse or neglect and increased cooperation between CYFD and law enforcement are leading to more reports of child maltreatment and driving up the rate of substantiated cases of repeated abuse or neglect.
“We have seen a lot more legitimate cases coming in than we had seen before,” Rounsville says.
CYFD says there were 35,856 reports of child abuse or neglect in the fiscal year that ended June 30, up 9 percent from the previous fiscal year. It reported 5,546 substantiated cases, up 23 percent.
Rounsville says the job vacancies and caseloads of Protective Services workers aren’t an issue when it comes to preventing repeated abuse or neglect and encouraging families to seek behavioral and other help.
“We are doing these investigations,” he says. “We are referring these families to services. … There’s never been a case where we have not investigated.”
He adds that more than 70 percent of substantiated cases of child maltreatment involve some form of neglect – such as medical or educational – and not sexual or other physical abuse.
State Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, a victim of child abuse who spent time in foster homes, agrees more public awareness about child maltreatment is driving up the rate of substantiated cases of repeated abuse or neglect.
But Padilla says other causes include the job vacancies and caseloads at Protective Services, as well as less hope and more stress for families because of the struggling economy.
“The economic situation of the state has everything to do with it,” the Albuquerque Democrat says.
Nine-year-old Omaree Varela, beaten to death in his home last December, allegedly by his drug addict mother, has become the face of what can happen when authorities fail to protect a child after they know abuse or neglect has taken place.
CYFD received nine referrals concerning Omaree and his family – two of which were substantiated. One of those substantiated reports came after Omaree told school officials that he had been beaten at home. Albuquerque police also had repeated contact with Omaree and his family.
In April, Gov. Susana Martinez, whose appointees manage CYFD, announced changes designed to improve the way child abuse and neglect cases are investigated and the way CYFD works with families in which maltreatment has already taken place.
The changes include more intensive monitoring of families that have been the subject of multiple CYFD investigations, as well as additional services for those families.
Also, under a pilot program, a multiagency child advocacy center has been opened in Valencia County, and Rounsville says the administration will seek funding next year for seven more centers.
The Legislative Finance Committee in April issued a report saying money now being spent by the state on foster care and adoption services might be better spent on early intervention programs that have been proven to prevent repeated child abuse or neglect.
Only five out of every 1,000 children in the state’s child protection system receive preventative services, like in-home visits from nurses and therapists, compared to a national average of 43 children per 1,000, according to the report.
Thirty-six percent of children who are found by CYFD to have been abused or neglected will be maltreated again before they are 18, the report said.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.