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CYFD accused of putting women at risk

SANTA FE, N.M. — Chanting slogans like “CYFD we are not your property” and “CYFD must protect our families,” about 75 protesters arrived on buses at the state Children, Youth and Families Department building in Albuquerque on Tuesday to voice their opposition to a policy that they say exposes victims of domestic violence to further danger from their abusers.

Speakers and members of the Olé Working Parents Association took to a megaphone to explain how applications for child-care assistance came with conditions that they first get a permanent restraining order against their former partner and that they sue that person for child support.

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela said the agency does not require any type of restraining order nor does it force women to sue their abusers in order to get child care. Further, he said, the agency never received the names of women who claim to have been given this erroneous information, nor the names of CYFD employees or the offices in which they received it.

However, Matthew Henderson, executive director of Olé, provided the Journal with two examples from 2014 and two from 2015, the most recent being Oct. 7, when women who were victims of domestic violence met with legislators and various CYFD officials. The women all provided their names and related their concerns about safety and CYFD’s requirements for child-care assistance, Henderson said.

Two of those stories were relayed during the Tuesday protest.

Kris Buchmann told the crowd that she has a child with her ex-boyfriend. The former boyfriend “has a number of mental health and violence issues and was abusive to me, and I felt that taking him to court for child support would only exacerbate an already bad situation and he would retaliate against me outside of court.”

Buchmann said she was told by CYFD that qualifying for the exemption to sue her former boyfriend required a permanent restraining order. Rather than do that, she said, she now pays for child care out of her own pocket.

Another speaker, Diana Maze, said she abandoned a domestic violence situation about two years ago.

“I left him, moved houses, changed phone numbers and changed jobs. I’d had a child-care contract and went in to renew it because my ex-boyfriend is no longer in my house and I didn’t want CYFD to count his income as part of my income,” Maze said. “They told me I had to sue for child support and that my temporary restraining order wasn’t good enough for the exemption. I came back a week later with a permanent restraining order that a judge had given me and CYFD said I still had to sue for child support.”

CYFD’s Varela said if a woman claims to be a victim of abuse and filing suit against her former partner would further endanger her, “they are not required to apply for child support and can fill out a waiver form once during their initial application and they will not be asked to apply for child support again.”

The reason CYFD wants women who have not been domestic violence victims to sue for child support is any child-care assistance from a former partner frees up child-care money for those women who can’t sue “because of a fear from past domestic violence.”

Henderson said Olé has talked to dozens of women “who have told us stories about caseworkers requiring women to sue their abusers even if they have a restraining order.” The only plausible explanation, he said, is “senior CYFD staff are telling caseworkers to disregard CYFD regulations meant to protect survivors of domestic violence.”