Hundreds of families in New Mexico are involved in child abuse and neglect cases, but the state says there aren’t enough lawyers they can appoint to represent the kids and parents. A task force met for the first time on Thursday, October 3, to weigh how to make the system work faster and better as the courts make decisions about whether children should stay with their families or in foster care.
The state is supposed to appoint lawyers to represent families involved in child welfare cases, usually paying private attorneys by the case. But the pay isn’t great, and neither is the training or oversight, according to lawmakers. For attorneys, that means heavy workloads. For parents, it means little face-to-face time with their lawyer. For kids, more time in foster care.
District Court Judge Jennifer DeLaney leads the task force. "We need to make sure that we are respecting the families that the system comes into contact with at every single decision that we make," she said. "It is their lives that will be most affected by what happens with regard to representation."
The committee will consider creating a separate system just for getting families good legal representation in child welfare cases and will make a recommendation to the Legislature next summer.
About 2,400 children in the state had abuse and neglect cases pending at the end of July this year, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Submit comments to the task force via email to: FamilyRepTaskForce@nmcourts.gov
Or through regular mail:
Attn: Family Representation Task Force, Administrative Office of the Courts
325 Don Gaspar, Suite 100, Santa Fe, N.M., 87510
See a recording of the first meeting through the Legislature's website.