As part of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s 2023 executive order to transform the Children, Youth and Families Department, the department rolled out a new dashboard during a press conference on Tuesday.
The dashboard can be found on CYFD’s new website, https://www.togetherwethrivenm.org/. It is one way the department is trying to be more accountable. Lujan Grisham issued an executive order earlier this year to make systemic change to an agency that has been rocked by allegations of neglect to abuse under its watch in recent years. Earlier this month, a new CYFD advisory council met with members of the press and the public to discuss how the council and the department would meet the mandates of the executive order. Lujan Grisham called CYFD “a system that is fundamentally broken,” in February.
Related: CYFD advisory council’s held first public meeting as part of agency’s reform
CYFD Acting Secretary Teresa Casados called the dashboard a “brand new way for the agency to share data in close to real time with the public.” She said the dashboard would be updated at the end of each month to provide new data.
“The data reflects some of our urgent priorities,” she said.
Casados walked the members of the media through the new dashboard, which shows that there are 1,744 children in state custody and 4,238 pending investigations. It also shows that there are 1,007 licensed foster homes.
Casados said that one of CYFD’s goals is to recruit 190 additional foster families by the end of the year.
Casados said CYFD is in an “ongoing effort to recruit” foster families, particularly non-relatives.
“We don’t have enough beds to give us a lot of options,” she said. “We’re hoping to increase the ratio of beds to children and see a reduction in the number of moves children experience in foster care.”
She said children, in some instances, have to stay overnight at CYFD offices. In December 2022, a teen housed in a CYFD office allegedly sexually assaulted a younger youth also housed in the office. Casados said CYFD is “focusing efforts on reducing the number of stays children have at CYFD offices.”
The dashboard is part of an effort, overall, to boost the public’s confidence in the department to both improve the number of foster families and the recruitment and retention of employees.
According to the dashboard, the office of the CYFD secretary had a 35 percent vacancy rate for employees in April 2023 and the agency’s protective services had a nearly 25 percent vacancy rate in the same month.
Casados said the department has a high vacancy rate because “it’s a really difficult job.”
“Dealing with those kids, seeing the trauma, it weighs on those individuals,” she said.
But, she said the agency is trying to “build from the bottom up” by providing entry level positions to individuals who may lack experience or the necessary education and “build that path for them” by providing training and enabling staff to create a career at CYFD. She said other department secretaries will also be encouraging recruitment for CYFD.
“All that people hear is the negative…our hope is to help people to understand this is not a terrible place to work,” she said.
A case in point is the secretary position itself. Former CYFD Secretary Barbara Vigil announced her retirement in February and Casados, who was Lujan Grisham’s chief operating officer, took the reins during the interim. But Casados said the response the department has had for a replacement “has been limited.”
Casados said CYFD is also creating several deputy positions as part of its restructuring.
Casados also talked about the backlog of more than 900 reimbursements to foster families the department recently distributed. She said the department is in the process of changing its policies and procedures so that the CYFD staff who receives the reimbursement request has the authority to make payments so that another backlog doesn’t occur.
One highlight for the department is that, since 2018, the number of children in residential treatment facilities has decreased by 72 percent, according to the dashboard.
Another highlight is that the state’s rate of children who reenter into foster care, both historically and currently, has always been under the federal threshold, said Sarah Meadows, director of performance and accountability for CYFD.
“That’s a good thing and we want to keep it as low as possible,” she said.