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New Mexico senator seeks to shift child welfare agency away from the governor

Kaveh Mowahed
CYFD office in Santa Fe.

With the legislative session just around the corner, one state senator is proposing to take the Children, Youth and Families Department out from under the governor. The bill is meant to address controversy around the department.

CYFD has drawn criticism in recent years over transparency issues, housing children in its offices and most recently, putting foster teens in a facility for kids with a history of mental illness and violence over Thanksgiving.

Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) said the first step to addressing these issues is to make changes to the leadership.

“What we’re seeing now is [that] the department is in what I refer to as a death spiral, a downward spiral in which public confidence is so eroded that people don’t want to work for them,” he said.

He is proposing a constitutional amendment to make CYFD no longer a part of the governor’s cabinet. Instead, it would answer to a commission of three people with relevant training and experience, who would also appoint the executive director.

CYFD has a 26% staff vacancy rate. Ortiz y Pino said low staffing at the department means the workers there now can’t do all of what’s mandated to them. He also says it’s struggling to hire because of CYFD’s well-publicized failings.

“This is meant to restore that confidence. To professionalize it, depoliticize it,” he said.

If the legislature passes the bill, it will go straight to the voters on November’s ballot.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners. 

Megan Myscofski was a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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