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Editorial: Keeping caseworkers here and safe key to safer kids

New Mexico struggles to attract and retain social workers in its Children, Youth and Families Department, something CYFD has often said is a factor that puts New Mexico children at risk.

Lawmakers are considering two bills to keep social workers on the job and safe. Both have the support of Gov. Susana Martinez, who said she wants the state “to attract more professionals with degrees in criminal justice, sociology or psychology.”

House Bill 341, sponsored by Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, would establish a school loan repayment program for eligible CYFD caseworkers. It passed the House last week and moves on to the Senate.

Martinez had requested $1 million for the program. The House has approved an appropriation of only $600,000, but that would be enough to help defray outstanding school loans for 300 to 400 caseworkers this year, according to CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson.

House Bill 506, introduced by Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, makes assault and battery on a CYFD caseworker performing his or her duties a fourth-degree felony and aggravated battery on a caseworker a third-degree felony.

Felony-level laws currently protect paramedics, school employees and sports officials, but not so for caseworkers – who are also placed in dangerous situations in the course of their jobs. HB 506 is scheduled to be heard in the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee today.

After the tragic death of Omaree Varela, the state has made an effort to address problems at CYFD. These bills are additional good steps that lawmakers should support.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.