May 25, 2023

CYFD: Repeat maltreatment in decline, but higher than average

CYFD logo

CYFD logo

New Mexico has 360 more repeat child maltreatment cases annually than the national average.

The interim Legislative Finance Committee heard a presentation by New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department Acting Secretary Teresa Casados on the child protective services division within CYFD on Tuesday. The LFC and CYFD provided a report on repeat child maltreatment. New Mexico is higher than the national average. Casados said one goal of the department is to change that. She said the department has made progress.

She said the incidence of repeat maltreatment dropped from 14.2 percent in the final months of 2022 to 13.7 percent in the early months of 2023. The national average is around 8 percent.

“We’re going in the right direction. Those are the right choices. It has a lot to do with staff. The work we’ve done to get out there more, more intensive reviews of cases, changing what investigations look like for second visits. Provide services,” she said.

CYFD spokesman Robert Johnson told NM Political Report that the repeat maltreatment percentages were higher before the COVID-19 pandemic. He said it was consistently around 16 percent to 17 percent before the pandemic.

The biggest drivers of child maltreatment are parental substance abuse, poverty, domestic violence, parental history of trauma and behavioral health issues, according to the report.

Casados told the LFC that not all maltreatment is physical abuse. Sometimes, for example, the issue could be a lack of food in the house. She said, in some cases, CYFD needs to help the family find resources so the child’s needs are being met and does not warrant CYFD removing the child from the house.

New Mexico began an alternative response program in 2021, according to the report. Through this program, CYFD does an initial assessment to learn if the maltreatment is more a problem of a family that needs to connect to services. CYFD then monitors the family but does not open a formal investigation. This, in turn, cuts down on caseloads, which is an on-going issue for the department as case workers are overloaded.

Staffing is the single biggest challenge for the department, Casados said. She said to encourage recruitment CYFD is working to enable alternative licensing to make it easier to work for the department, as well as trying to recruit through other agencies who recruit social workers.

She said the department had just made 17 offers this week.

The director of child protective services, Emily Martin, announced she is resigning this month. Hilari Lipton, senior advisor to the Secretary of CYFD, will replace Martin in an interim capacity while the department looks for a permanent replacement. One of the biggest staffing vacancies is in the child protective services division.

Casados said the legislature appropriated $20 million in Fiscal Year 2023 to CYFD and Human Services Department for behavioral health services.  She said the agencies have not spent the money or put a plan in place to spend it. But, she said CYFD, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department and other agencies are trying to come up with a plan to use the money to build a network of providers. That could include rural mobile crisis units that would travel to rural areas on certain days.

“Our biggest challenge is the lack of providers,” she said.

State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, asked if the department is considering any “cutting-edge ways” to address substance abuse treatments and behavioral health for parents under CYFD monitoring.

Lipton said the agency has been looking at both Delaware and New Jersey as models for “braiding child welfare and behavioral health.”

“New Jersey has great behavioral health along with adult services for parents,” Lipton said. “Those two states have really great models. We’ve done some work with New Jersey and we’re looking forward to the future.”

Several of the members of LFC expressed concern about New Mexico CARA, Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. CARA is national legislation aimed at helping pregnant people who are affected by substance use.

State Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, referred to a news report earlier this week about a woman charged with child abuse after her two-year-old daughter died at the hospital from ingesting fentanyl. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the woman’s sister had filed for an emergency guardianship of two older children but CYFD had returned the older children to the mother.

“How do we as a legislature put guardrails to make sure this doesn’t happen?” Diamond asked.

Casados said that case is an open investigation, and as such, she is not free to speak on it publicly. Regarding transparency of the department, Casados said she is “trying very hard to push the limits on what we can report.”

“I want to give the public and legislature information,” she said.

This led to an exchange about CYFD’s advisory council, which had its first formal meeting earlier this month. The council will hold public meetings but will also hold internal meetings. That announcement led to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government to issue a press release the following day that “strongly urges the committee to reconsider and adopt a resolution to open all the meetings.”

Casados said the advisory council will conduct town halls around the state. She said the first, middle and end meetings would be public but not all the meetings would be.

State Sen. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdelena, asked about the process for reporting new parents who suffer substance abuse disorder to CYFD. Casados said CARA plans are created by managed care organizations who work in hospitals. She said that is federal law and “done across other states.”

State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said his wife is a school teacher and he said when a child is referred to the agency, the caseworker may say “we’ll see you in six hours or tomorrow.” He said that can result in a child not “coming back.”

“They disappear out of the system. It’s a clear case of a child left the state,” he said. 

Muñoz told Casados to “come back with three things you want to do in that department.”

“How can we help you make that change? How do we help you become more efficient and not see these shock and awe factors? How do we stop that? We need three good things the legislature can do,” he said. 

Casados said she would return with a list and that supporting the workforce is “critical.”

“They’re beaten up every day in the media. Do we make bad decisions sometimes? Maybe. They need the support of their communities and that’s something I ask for today,” she said.