The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department will have a new department head in October, according to an announcement on Tuesday from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
According to the announcement, current Secretary Brian Blalock will step down this month “to support his wife’s pursuit of new work opportunities in California.”
Lujan Grisham appointed Blalock, who previously worked in California as a child welfare advocate. In a statement, Lujan Grisham said she was grateful to Blalock for his work with CYFD.
“When Brian agreed to take this role, my expectation and hope was that an expert set of eyes from outside of our system would be the right ingredient to help move the ball forward for New Mexico children and families,” she said. “He inherited an agency in disarray, with employees who had been sidelined and discouraged by an administration that did not prioritize or support this essential work. Under his leadership the agency has made progress and implemented productive policies.”
While personal reasons were cited as his reason for stepping down, the announcement comes on the heels of a series of stories from Searchlight New Mexico that highlighted reported shortcomings in the department. In April, it came to light that the department was using an encrypted messaging system for internal communication, which raised questions about transparency. A month later, Searchlight reported that employees who raised concerns about the encrypted messaging system were fired. Last month, two employees filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging they were fired for raising concerns about the encrypted messages that they say were systematically deleted.
But Blalock, in a statement, said the decision to step down is rooted in his family’s decision to move back to California to support his wife.
“While I have loved my time and work in New Mexico, the pandemic has made it clear to me the importance of being close to family,” Blalock said. “My wife has an incredible career opportunity to go back and lead the advocacy organization where she first started her career and to be closer to our family, and I will be there to support her.”
The department will be led by an interim secretary until October, when former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil will take over on a permanent basis. Vigil, who presided over the state’s Children’s Court prior to her work as a state supreme court justice, said she is grateful for the opportunity to advocate for children in New Mexico.
“Throughout my career I have tried to be a passionate advocate for the children and families of New Mexico. There is so much need,” Vigil said. “And the systems that serve them, as we all know, do not always meet those needs. I have observed first-hand in my professional career where those breakdowns occur, and I know we are capable, as a state, of marshaling the critical resources and compassion to create an environment where children and families have what they need to lead safe, happy, healthy lives.”
Lujan Grisham praised Vigil for her previous work, calling Vigil “tremendously talented.”
“We are lucky to have her, and I’m very grateful to her for her willingness to step back into the arena and take on a challenging opportunity for the benefit of children and families of New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said.