Foster parents, biological parents and kids face new challenges amid state’s response to COVID-19 outbreak

Families first. That’s the sentiment behind last week’s decision by of New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department to continue visitation between foster kids and their biological families — despite the risk of infection from coronavirus. Though CYFD closed its supervised visitation offices for the vast majority of cases, the agency is now instructing staff to collect children from their foster homes to meet up with their birth families in public parks and other outdoor spaces. The meetings will continue in spite of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s order Monday that all nonessential businesses in New Mexico close and that all residents stay at home “except for outings essential to health, safety, and welfare.”

Caught between the new order and the constitutional rights of biological parents, many foster parents are panicked by CYFD’s directive, insisting that it will put the health of their households at risk. “I’ve cleaned my house, I’ve canceled all activities, I’ve washed my hands 6,000 times,” said Jill Michel, a mother of seven who fosters two children for CYFD.

Childcare workers with COVID-19 can get state-funded insurance

The state announced that uninsured childcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 will be able to enroll in a state insurance plan during the public health emergency. Uninsured early childcare workers and their families will be able to enroll in New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool (NMMIP), the state’s high-risk pool, during the public health emergency if they or their family members test positive to COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state will pay the premiums, according to the statement. Under emergency rules issued by the Superintendent of Insurance, deductibles and copayments are also waived for treatment of COVID-19, influenza and pneumonia through NMMIP. This new rule will apply to all childcare workers and their immediate family members who test positive regardless of income or immigration status, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in the statement.

Some question why childcare centers are still open during public health emergency

The state’s message that childcare centers in New Mexico should remain open while everyone else is encouraged to stay home is the wrong message, say some early childcare educators. The state has asked early childcare centers to stay open while public schools are closed and to accept more children by loosening regulations. But at the same time, the state is encouraging businesses to rely on remote workers and is encouraging the public to limit itself to gatherings of no more than 100 people. President Donald Trump said Monday that the public should not gather in groups of more than 10. Related: State offers assistance to families and child care providers during emergency

According to a state report, 85.5 percent of early childcare workers are women and 55.1 percent identify as Latina or Hispanic.

State offers assistance to families and child care providers during emergency

Two state agencies are providing child care assistance to parents who need help during the coronavirus pandemic. The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD) made changes to the state’s early childhood policies in response to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s public health emergency declaration due to the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. The state is encouraging families to stay home as much as possible during the global pandemic. But if families need assistance with childcare during the public health emergency, the state has made changes to offer assistance. The state is also offering various forms of assistance to child care providers to encourage them to stay open during this time of crisis.

State agencies still open, public encouraged to access them online or by phone

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of public health emergency Wednesday in the light of three presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the state. By the end of the day, her office announced a fourth case. Lujan Grisham’s message to the public was to avoid unnecessary human to human contact, consider not traveling outside of the state and work from home if possible. But that can be difficult for state employees whose jobs require them to work directly with the public. 

Lujan Grisham also announced that non-essential state employees would be allowed to work from home. A spokesman told NM Political Report Thursday morning that the governor’s intention was “to keep as many people working at home as possible.”

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for the governor, said Lujan Grisham was not referring to non-essential employees in a technical sense, but instead calling on cabinet secretaries to encourage employees to “telework” if they can. 

“It’s every secretary’s obligation to find a way to execute that,” Stelnicki said. 

But that’s not to say public-facing employees will stop working.

Bill that helps kids who ‘age out’ of foster care passes Senate

A bill to provide support to children who have “aged out” of foster care but still need a safety net passed unanimously in the Senate chamber Monday. SB 168 would allow children who are 18 to 21 who lack resources necessary to enter adulthood to access aid from the Child, Youth and Family Services Department. CYFD would be able to leverage federal dollars to pay for the services. Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is sponsoring the bill. Padilla said while on the Senate floor that the bill aligns New Mexico with federal law and federal requirements for funding already available.

Bill to lengthen statute of limitations on child sexual abuse passes House

A bill that would extend the statute of limitations on taking civil action for child sexual abuse passed the House floor with broad bipartisan support Friday. HB 302 passed 61 to 4. Currently, a victim of childhood sexual abuse must bring a claim to civil court before the victim’s 24th birthday or within three years of disclosing the abuse to a health provider. Bill co-sponsor Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, said that this bill would open that up. The bill would not change the 24th birthday limitation but would expand the three-year period when a victim first becomes aware of the abuse and understands that they were harmed by it.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session. There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session. Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.

False alarms: When schools abuse CYFD hotline, families suffer

Carrizozo is a windswept town just north of the Sacramento Mountains, a tiny place of 936 souls, where everybody knows everybody else. So when a state investigator showed up at Christy Cartwright’s doorstep in January, the mother of five was horrified to learn that an employee of Carrizozo Municipal Schools had reported her for child abuse. Her kids had attended the district’s three schools for the past 15 years. Despite a spate of run-ins with the high school principal and special education staff, Cartwright called Carrizozo home. How, she wondered, could anyone there believe she was capable of hurting her children?

After failed indictments on sexual assault charges, father tries to rebuild family, career

In the late afternoon of August 30, 2017, Jessica Lowther was on the phone with her husband, Adam. Recently back from a routine business trip, Adam called to say he was headed home from work and would take their two young children to their taekwondo lessons. During that call, Jessica answered a knock on her front door. A handful of Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers and at least one investigator from the Children Youth and Families Department stood at her door. A female officer said they needed to do a welfare check on the two Lowther children.