New Mexico Children,Youth and Families Secretary Barbara Vigil will change jobs to sit on the newly created CYFD Policy Advisory Council beginning May 1.
The governor’s office will operate a nationwide search for her replacement.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Thursday that Vigil, a former state Supreme Court justice, will be replaced by Teresa Casados who will serve as acting secretary until a new secretary can be found.
Vigil’s resignation will be the latest in a line of officials to lead the troubled department. Vigil replaced Brian Blalock amid concerns about transparency and the use of secure messaging systems.
The department has faced criticisms for years, including under Vigil, over responses to child abuse.
Casados currently serves as the Governor’s Office Chief Operating Officer.
“I am profoundly grateful to Barbara Vigil for her legacy of service to the children of our state, especially for being such a stabilizing force for the Children,Youth and Family Services Department. I’m looking forward to continuing to benefit from her expertise in her new role on the Policy Advisory Council,” Lujan Grisham said in a news release Thursday. “Chief Casados has hit the ground running and is already making significant strides to meaningfully transform CYFD.”
Vigil began serving as CYFD Secretary in August 2021.
“Under Secretary Vigil’s leadership, CYFD has spearheaded the passage of crucial legislation, including the landmark Indian Family Protection Act, as part of her efforts to strengthen the department’s work with tribal partners,” the news release states. “The Act specifically supports children in CYFD’s care in maintaining their culture and connections to their tribe. She also championed the critical foundational work necessary to execute the commitments outlined in the Kevin S. Settlement.”
Vigil has worked in both the judicial and executive branches focusing on families’ and childrens’ well-being, Vigil said in a statement.
“Collaborating with child welfare professionals, we built a foundation for lasting change and positive outcomes for our children and families,” Vigil said. “It’s been my honor to serve these families. I am grateful to the thousands of dedicated professionals – foster families, service providers, and CYFD staff and believe deeply in their capacity to achieve transformational change.”
Republican state senator Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte released a statement following the announcement.
“I am heartbroken to see the vulnerable children of our state failed by this administration yet again,” Diamond said in a statement. “We had a chance to force structural change in the department that would have created stability and accountability. Instead, certain legislators were bullied by the Governor into rejecting viable, bipartisan solutions with the empty promise that Secretary Vigil would be a steady hand of change. This is truly a sad day for New Mexico.”
House Republican leadership also issued a statement.
“While New Mexicans are frustrated that more meaningful reforms did not take place under Justice Vigil’s leadership of CYFD, we will continue to hold accountable the next CYFD leader,” House Republican Leader Rep. T. Ryan Lane of Aztec said in a statement. “House Republicans remain resolute that the children and families within CYFD need better support and more accountability, and we will continue to lead on presenting reforms that benefit the families and not the broken system.”
Lujan Grisham announced that a nationwide search for Vigil’s replacement is underway. The next CYFD Secretary “must have experience in successfully pioneering major systemic reforms,” the news release states.
“I do not step into this role lightly. The stories of the children in our care keep me up at night and surface-level changes will not suffice,” Casados said. “We need long-lasting, fundamental changes to this system of care that deliver vastly better outcomes for New Mexico’s children. I am committed to ramping up the rigor and driving outcomes until we identify a leader to continue our agency reform and transformation work.”
Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that expedites CYFD reforms including setting up the Policy Advisory Council.
“The CYFD Advisory Council gathers professionals from the child-welfare community including service providers, families who have interacted with CYFD, attorneys, and behavioral health providers. Each council member offers a knowledgeable and diverse perspective,” according to CYFD.
The Council is expected to hold its inaugural meeting on May 4.