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Senate confirms Monique Jacobson as CYFD secretary

SANTA FE – The state Senate on Monday confirmed Monique Jacobson’s appointment as secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department, expressing confidence in her ability to turn around the troubled agency.

The Senate voted 35-2 to endorse Jacobson, whom Republican Gov. Susana Martinez appointed in December to succeed Yolanda Deines. Deines had resigned.

The agency has been criticized for its handling of high-profile child abuse cases and has been plagued by difficulties recruiting and keeping caseworkers.

Jacobson’s appointment surprised many observers because her background is in corporate marketing and she was secretary of the Tourism Department, a much smaller and unrelated agency.

But her supporters in the Senate praised her intelligence, her organizational skills and her willingness to listen and respond.

“Management skills are first and foremost” in heading the 2,000-employee agency, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.

Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, described CYFD as “one of those no-win departments.”

It gets criticized if it doesn’t remove children from their homes and they’re subsequently hurt, she said. And it’s accused of breaking up families when it does remove children.

“We believe in families, but we believe in keeping kids safe. And sometimes those values are diametrically opposed,” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said at an earlier meeting of the Senate Rules Committee, which recommended her confirmation.

The agency announced internal changes after the case of 9-year-old Omaree Varela of Albuquerque, who died in December 2013 after allegedly being kicked by his mother.

Jacobson, a Taos native, acknowledged to the Senate Rules Committee that she was not an obvious choice for the job, but she said has the background and skills to do it and that protecting children is her top priority.

“I believe without a shred of doubt I can do this job,” she told the committee.