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New corrective plan for the Kevin S. agreement settled


The Kevin S. agreement focused on the state’s failing child welfare system and state agencies agreed to implement plans to create a more robust system of care for children and families.

Three years after the settlement, a new corrective plan now includes four interconnected pillars of reform that focuses on expanding CYFD staff, enhancement in training of foster parents, development of a trauma informed behavioral health system, and strengthening collaboration with tribes and nations. The Children, Youth, and Families Department and the Human Services Department have agreed to provide real time data reports quarterly to three child welfare experts who will monitor progress through the beginning of next year.

Tara Ford, Senior Counsel at Public Counsel said the progress that was agreed to back in 2020 has stalled out and it’s now beyond time for the state to take action. “This is a very fixable problem” she said.

Dr. George Davis, former Chief Psychiatrist with CYFD and now a consultant on the Kevin S. agreement, said one important feature of the plan is two new pilot programs in San Juan and Doña Ana counties.

He said, “the reason why those are so important, they’re local. They have the providers that are local to that region and also they know the children in that region. And the whole point of treating a child who is in the child welfare system is that it’s a very specific individualized process that each child needs.”

Ford and Davis sat down with KUNM to discuss the next stage.

TARA FORD: When we reached the settlement in Kevin S., we were really encouraged by the state's willingness to commit to fixing what we all know has been a broken system of serving children and families who are caught up in the dependency system in New Mexico.

And together after a very, very productive mediation, we were able to come up with really a blueprint for change. And the Kevin s settlement really is a blueprint for change and for reform.

KUNM: Tara, what strengths do you see in the corrective plan? And what are the weaknesses? 

FORD: Certainly strengthening CYFD’s workforce, recruiting family placement, taking really clear and active steps to bring children who are placed in facilities out of state back to New Mexico, monitoring all critical incidents when children are harmed while they're in care. All of those are really important and good steps.

Other steps that I think are very exciting. We're going to ensure that every child receives a well child check within 30 days of coming into state custody. That's already a requirement in the law, but it doesn’t happen. And so certainly understanding what kids need as soon as they come into custody is important. And a CYFD really took a lot of steps to formalize their commitment to partnering with New Mexico's 23 unique nations, tribes, and pueblos and to engage with tribal communities around what resources and supports they need and want for their children when they are interfacing with the child welfare system.

In terms of areas where we really are going to need to still focus. And I hope, frankly, that the political process also focuses on this. CYFD can work hard to build up its capacity, and to interface well with children and families. But one of the most important things they need to be able to do is connect children and families to a robust system of care, meaning Medicaid supports and services. It's been over a decade since the children's mental health system was really dismantled. And so you know, I think we would just say, as the Plaintiffs team, that it is past time for the Medicaid system to really put more resources on the table to serve the needs of children and families, particularly those who are in state custody.

KUNM: Dr. Davis, it was highlighted in the release that the plan was unable to settle the pressing issue of behavioral health. Are you concerned about the efficacy of implementing the plan without this important component?

DR. GEORGE DAVIS: Of course I’m concerned. And when I say they're locked together, those four pillars of reform. One of them is the enhancement and the expansion and the strengthening of the behavioral health system. It's one of the things that wears out case workers. It's one of the things that damages children or makes them not treatable in certain kinds of settings because there aren't the kinds of services available. I think we cannot progress until those services are enhanced and delivered and made accessible. And we know at this time that they're scarcely accessible.

KUNM: Tara, you mentioned before that the Kevin S. agreement as a blueprint for change. How will this new plan lay a foundation for the state to begin to build a strong child welfare system?

FORD: When you start talking about the needs of families that are hurting, and children who are hurting and are caught up in the dependency system. In some ways, that's a small number of families. But it is kind of the tip of the iceberg in terms of making sure that we have healthy communities for children and families. And so it really is important for us to build up the kind of support that will help them.

DAVIS: And if I was going to add one thing on to that I would say this is not a project for either the Plaintiffs or the Defendants only. This is a statewide project. It's something that we all should care about. And something that assisting children who have troubles in their families is the very heart of creating a healthy population. And those children become adults and then those adults raise more children and it's a lasting effect when you improve systems like this.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.
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