New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department along with the state’s Human Services Department settled in federal court last week with a group of plaintiffs that include children in foster care. The suit alleged that the state’s foster program was severely lacking in services and resources.
Both CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock and the plaintiff’s legal team are touting the settlement agreement as the first of its kind as it incorporates changes to the system through a collaborative effort.
Kathryn Eidmann, with national pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is part of the plaintiff’s legal team. Eidmann called the collaborative settlement agreement “groundbreaking and the first of its kind in the nation.”
“[The agreement] centers the impact that trauma has on young people in the foster system and designs a system that is trauma responsive at every stage and every step of the process,” Eidmann said. “That truly does make New Mexico a national leader and a national model that other reformers in this area can look to as they think about reforming their own system to better meet the needs of children in care.”
The settlement stipulates a time table and benchmarks for changes to the state’s foster care program. For example, by the end of this year, the state will ensure no children are housed in hotels or state offices.
New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) perpetually faces criticism for intervening too late and overstepping boundaries. The department is often in the news, mostly after records show officials ignoring warning signs. Conversely, some families say they have faced intrusive home visits over school absences and one father was separated from his family and fired from his job for allegedly sexually abusing his daughter, even though prosecutors eventually said the evidence did not point to a crime. Now, CYFD is trying something new. With new department implemented risk assessment plan and response system soon-to-be implemented by law, CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock hopes to change how child welfare cases in New Mexico are opened, investigated and ultimately resolved.
New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department Secretary Brian Blalock is an outsider. He is one of only two cabinet-level appointees in the Michelle Lujan Grisham administration not from New Mexico—and lawmakers have not let him forget it. But when asked by legislators how he plans to lead CYFD with little institutional knowledge, Blalock always gives the same answer: He’s always been an outsider. In a recent interview with NM Political Report, Blalock said through much of his career as a child welfare advocate, he’s learned that there is no one correct way to fix things. “No matter where you go, you have to listen first,” Blalock said.