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Let's Talk about teens aging out of the foster care system

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Let’s Talk New Mexico 5/5 8am: Being a teen in foster care can be complex. Imagine being taken from home, yearning to belong, or even lacking support when it comes to mental health. For most young adults, turning 18 means new opportunities and experiences. But for kids aging out of the foster care system, coming of age comes with stress and uncertainty of what comes next.

On this week’s Let’s Talk New Mexico, we’ll be taking a look at how our foster care system is structured, what reforms are needed in order to ensure kids are safe while in foster care, and what tools need to be implemented to ensure these young adults are set up for success. And we want to hear from you! Have you been a kid in foster care, or, did you age out of the system? Are you a foster parent? What gaps are you seeing in the system that need addressing? Email us at LetsTalk@kunm.org or call in live during the show.



Taylor Velazquez: Good morning. Welcome to Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm your host, Taylor Velazquez. Being in foster care can be challenging. But for teens, it can be even more stressful. Most young adults are balancing school, work, and their social life. Teens in foster care are balancing all of that on top of court dates, the trauma of being taken from their families, and the uncertainty of their living situation. They also face big challenges when they age out of the system into adulthood, with much higher risks of ending up unhoused. This morning, we'll talk about what it's like to live in foster care with advocates, folks with lived experience lawyers, and the Children, Youth, and Families Department. And we want to hear from you. Have you been a kid in foster care? Or did you age out of the system? Are you a foster parent? What gaps are you seeing in the system that needs addressing? You can email us at LetsTalk@kunm.org or you can call in live to 505-277-5866. And my first guest this morning is Alyssa Davis, a youth advocate, and New Mexico CAN. Good morning, Alyssa, thanks for joining us. Well, it looks like we don't have a list on the line right now. So, I'm going to pivot to our other youth advocate from NMCAN. Hi, Micaela, welcome to the show.

Micaela Baca: Hi.

Taylor Velazquez: And my first question for you is you were in foster care system as a young adult, and you eventually aged out when approaching your work with the young people you now work with, how do you prepare them for that whole process?

Micaela Baca: Um, so with NMCAN, we normally hold events that we, that we bring young people to, there's a lot of like, classes like on, you know, speaking like at public events, or parenting classes, for our youth who do become parents themselves. We host a lot of events with like, going to like outings like the zoo, or holding events out, explore, just trying to bring in those youth to let them know about our services.

Taylor Velazquez: And you have a long history of advocating not only for the youth you work for, but your past experiences in order to make the system better. And you've successfully advocated for your first foster youth employer tax credit in the country back in 2018. How does this all work and how has it impacted youth getting jobs?

Micaela Baca: So, this is actually one of my biggest successes, I want to say, because I was a big part of going to the Roundhouse, when there was just a bill and speaking to state representatives and going and being in my council, the council hearings and stuff like that. And this has impacted even my life as a young adult, my first job ever, I was able to work at a law firm that I was able, I was able to get this job through NMCAN, and I got connected with this law firm that gave me employment and I was there for almost two years. And they were able to collect tax credit of $1,000 for employing me and providing me skills that will later, that I later on took to other jobs and was able to maintain employment. This, I believe this though, while this tax credit, opportunity, like has helped a lot of our former foster youth their current one because it does give that employer that tax credit to employ us. So, it's a good incentive, I think. And like I said, it even helped me find employment and continues to, like help me because I do like about it. And I always let like job interviews or once I get the job normally, I'll let them know like, hey, did you know about this? And they normally don't. But once I let them know, I'm sure that they don't mind taking or getting more information on it.

Taylor Velazquez: Right, for sure. And you know, you just talked about how that had implemented all these skills that you are taking throughout your life now. And you also advocated for education, you actually worked on the requirement of rewarding partial credits for work completed in previous schools. How can school be an obstacle for foster care youth as you continue helping young people navigate through the foster care? What is the biggest challenge change you're seeing now?

Micaela Baca: So, I think what really motivated us to like work on this was that a lot of foster youth are um, they experience like, moving around a lot, they, they never really have a secure place. And at times, you may think that everything is going perfect in your foster home, or at your group home. And little do you know, like your Medicaid won't pay for another month, or your foster parents don't see you staying there. So, you have to find somewhere else to go. And so, a lot of these foster youth were not being their credits weren't being transferred, because the school either didn't accept those credits or credits are different a different, you know, sometimes you have to move really far like to a different town or city or whatever. So, credits didn't transfer. And a lot of kids were seeing that even though they were putting in the work and they were there at school. And they were, they were there in the classroom, they their work was in showing that because their credits were being transferred. So, we really worked really hard on this to make sure that even though sometimes, we kind of are all over the place. Not through any fault of our own, of course, but just because the situation that we are in that to make sure that our credits transfer over. And I know that this has helped a lot of foster youth even like I think I spoke to a young person the other day, and they were telling me about their credits. They're like, thank goodness about that policy change or something like that. That was that we were eligible to get my credits to transfer over to my new high school. And so, I know that it still impacts us today. And also, like being able to make it to college, which is something that not a lot of us get to do.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. And I want to pivot to Alyssa Davis now a youth advocate at New Mexico CAN. Good morning. Alyssa, are you there?

Alyssa Davis: Yes, I am. Hi.

Taylor Velazquez: Awesome. It's great to have you on the show. And, you know, Micaela was just talking about the obstacles that are presented to youth and education. But can you talk about what you would say the biggest obstacles that youth are facing in foster care overall?

Alyssa Davis: I think the hardest one would be housing as a we have a hard time finding homes, or apartments, places that will rent to us, or in general finding somewhere for us to go. Because when you're 18, you're just you're out there. Some are lucky to get into transitional living programs. But that's not always the case. I think that's a very huge obstacle, which I'm really glad about the other bills that we had recently just passed this previous legislation for extending foster care for up to 21, where youth can actually have a stable home while they finish high school, try to get into college and do those basic needs that other kids get to do around that age, stay at home with their parents, but we don't get that luxury of stability and our 18th birthday. We're just kind of out in the world and the struggles of finding stable housing or even being able to get a job when we're still in high school is very difficult.

Taylor Velazquez: Right? I can only imagine, and do you mind sharing a little bit about your experiences in the foster care setting that ultimately led you to NMCAN to help you get that stability we're just talking about?

Alyssa Davis: Yes, they help us a lot with this stability like of finding resources and how to navigate and navigate, like the housing, apartments and how to apply for them and keep our credit good. And they offer a lot of classes on credit and having match for match funds. Up to $3,000 of that we can match to for a down payment on an apartment or first month's rent and a computer from school. So, things like that is very beneficial and helpful.

Taylor Velazquez: And you know, most youth aren't encountering the legal system at such a young age. But what was it like for you going through the legal system, especially as a teen. Were your opinions considered and were you given updates about your case?

Alyssa Davis: The legal system when I was going through it, it was very rocky. It was very I didn't get to meet with lawyers like my lawyer. We had a new one. I had a new one literally every time I moved placements, which was every time I moved to a new home or a new foster home, there was a new lawyer, or I didn't know the lawyer and I never met them. So, the only good thing that came out of the whole court system was my judge. He was awesome. Judge Romero, to really, like, loves his job and was good at it, and support it, the kids. So that was the one good thing was having a good judge. And I think that was very helpful. But when it came to the lawyer side, it was just, it was very lacking a lot. So, it was just, I didn't know my rights are that I even had rights. So….

Taylor Velazquez: It just has to be scary and unsettling as a teen to not have permanent housing while looking towards your future after aging out. Do you feel your mental well-being was a priority for the people overseeing you?

Alyssa Davis: I'm sorry. Can you repeat that last part? I’m so sorry.

Taylor Velazquez: With all that being said, and all the stress that you guys go through, do you feel like your mental well-being was a priority for people overseeing you?

Alyssa Davis: I think it was not necessarily a priority, but it was something they focused on too much, I guess. To the point where it was hurting my mental health and I will give an example about that. It's just they put us in treatment facilities or centers when there's no room for us for our foster home. So, they put us in a mental facility or somewhere to that we don't really need to be, but they focus on that heavily. So, I don't know if they're really helping those that really do need it, need that extra support and help? I think they focus on it too much and overdose us with medication too much. So, I'm hoping that's changing in the near future with a lot of things that we've been working on, and not have that experience for any other young youth. So, I really hope that does change.

Taylor Velazquez: Right. And you know, you just spoke so much about what it's like to go through the foster care system and really take those next steps into adulthood. And in 2020, the extended Foster Care program called Fostering Connections was implemented. But before you, before did you feel like you were paired prepared to go out of foster care? And what do you tell youth now?

Alyssa Davis: I was not prepared to leave foster care. I know I was one of the few lucky ones to get a transitional housing from new day. For aged out youth and homeless youth, I was very lucky to receive, to have gotten a spot but there are those spots are very few, very selective, very hard to get into. And I really was not prepared for the other things that came with aging out of the system. Like I was not finished with high school. And so, I still had to try to find, finished high school but my main priority was finding a job and having a home. And when someone at school heard me say that they're like, what do you mean school is not your biggest priority? And I'm like, well, it's not I can't have that luxury of going to school and trying to graduate. I have to work I have to make sure I'm not homeless on the streets like that's my worst fear of especially being in foster care. Coming from that background my worst fear is being on the streets. Having experienced that before as a child so my main goal was not school, which was really sad and at the time it took me a while, but I did get finished finally. I think that extended Foster Care program would definitely help with education so much more. Now that youth are able to actually finish because we have such a late start, we move school so many things are we have court dates so you have to miss school so we just

Taylor Velazquez: And I hate to cut you off Alyssa but unfortunately, we have to pause for just a minute this is Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9. I'm Taylor Velasquez and we'll be right back.


Taylor Velazquez: Welcome back to Let's Talk New Mexico. I'm Taylor Velazquez. We're taking your calls about foster care. Have you ever considered being a foster care parent? Or are you a foster care parent? What have those experience has been like? Give us a call at 505-277-5866 and let us know. And I want to go back to our guest, Alyssa Davis. Before the break, she was talking more about how she felt not prepared to go out into the world into adulthood. And what she tells the youth she works with now. Alyssa, would you mind just finishing up your thought?

Alyssa Davis: Yeah, just the it's just so exciting to have this new thing in place to be able to have youth succeed more in going to having that extended care. So, it's been a blessing. And I'm sure it's I wish I had it. But I'm glad to have advocated for it so that it can benefit many other youth because it's going to change the face of foster care and youth not having to be a stigma of being another statistic falling into the category of not being a success in life. So, I think this is gonna be great change.

Taylor Velazquez: And now I would like to welcome in Arika Sanchez, Director of Policy for NMCAN. Good morning, Arika, thanks for joining us.

Arika Sanchez: Good morning. And thank you for having me.

Taylor Velazquez: And we just heard from two of your young people about the challenges they faced, what they wish they had and how they you guys help them. What are the major problems you're seeing when kids are walking through NMCAN’s doors?

Arika Sanchez: Well, so as Alyssa and Micaela have said, young people who have been removed from their homes and disconnected from their families face additional challenges as they're transitioning to adulthood. And really what young people have been telling us for years is we, we, everyone shouldn't be focusing on putting band aids on these issues that are so far down the road. We need to talk about, about the fundamental ways that we are viewing and working with families. We, we really need to lift up the conversation that people aren't having and that's, that's the place where we can have the most impact, which is not separating families but supporting them. We keep seeing that systems do not do a good job raising children and that children do their best in families and communities. So, we really need to, as a state, work to implement some community centered approaches that address poverty, and really support families. Family separation is traumatic for children. Everything that they face while in foster care is traumatic for children. And so, we really shouldn't look at the remote removal of children as a solution for families struggling with unstable housing or childcare needs or food insecurity or physical or mental health.

Taylor Velazquez: It's estimated that 2300 kids are in foster care in New Mexico. How does an NMCAN help these young people navigate the foster care system.

Arika Sanchez: So, we work with young people to develop their skills and drive systems change to improve the system, so they are better for young people and families coming after them. And we really work with young people to develop their leadership skills. So, the skills that they're using in their advocacy are skills that benefit them in all aspects of their life, like education or employment or advocating for their health or for their children.

Taylor Velazquez: And aging out of foster care most likely happens at the age of 18 Unless they opt out or opt in otherwise. What does aging out mean for these young people? Do young people feel they're prepared to take those next steps?

Arika Sanchez: So, when they age out, whether that's an 18 or now 21. You know, young people off and since they've been disconnected from their families, and communities. They don't have those support networks that other people have. Which as Alyssa and Micaela said, it's more difficult to navigate that transition to adulthood when you don't have those networks, when you don't have the skills that and experiences that you would have developed if you were living in your own home. And so, we really just work with young people to develop those skills.

Taylor Velazquez: And at NMCAN you also work on systemic issues. What policy changes would you like to see?

Arika Sanchez: So, what we would like to see is a shift to supporting families, ensuring that they have what they need to safely care for their families. And we want to see less, less children coming into the foster care system, and more and more people staying in their communities with their families. And it's really important that we include the voices of the young people in the families that are impacted by policies or potential policies. They are the people who know what they need, and what will most benefit them. So, one important component of our work is including young people at all of those tables where those conversations are happening. So, it's just really important to have the voices of people with lived experiences when you're making those decisions.

Taylor Velazquez: Now, I want to bring in Beth Gillia, Deputy Secretary of the New Mexico Child, Youth and Families department. Good morning, Beth, thanks for joining us.

Beth Gillia: Good morning, Taylor. Thanks for having me.

Taylor Velazquez: So far this morning, it seems like foster care can be very complex and no two cases are the same. Do you mind giving an overview of the foster care system and what you guys kind of see every day?

Beth Gillia: Sure. That's a big question. So foster care exists to address the extreme circumstances where families can't provide for their children safely. We really only want to intervene in families, where there is neglect or abuse to such an extent that we can't support the family in their own home with their own parents. We know as Arika, Alyssa and Micaela have said, that children do their best when they're with their families, or with their extended families if they can't be with their parents themselves. So, we really want to only remove in the most extreme circumstances. And the way the system works is we become aware of families, when community members who care about children call us on our statewide central intake and tell us that they think a child is being harmed in some way. Either they're being neglected, or they're being abused. We get that call, we prioritize the call, depending on how serious the allegations are and then we send investigators out to find out what's really happening for a child, and what we can do to help that family improve their circumstances. If the conditions are so severe that a child is unsafe in their home, it's only then that will remove the child from the home. And our really driving goal in those circumstances, is to place a child at first with someone in their family, as I'm sorry, I don't remember which guests said it but kids really do better with their families. It's terrifying to go into home where a child doesn't know anyone where the culture is different, where the practices are different, the food is different, the bed is different. You don't have your toys, you don't have your friends, potentially. So, we really try and place kids with their families first. And then we provide services to the family to try it and bring them back home and in most cases, kids do go home. So..

Taylor Velazquez: And this morning, we're talking about teenagers and placing teenagers in foster homes, you know, they're still trying to find their way in the world. They are at that age where they're starting to challenge the world around them, and they have that teenage angst. Do you have a harder time placing teens? Is there something you have to go to foster care parents and really talk to them about?

Beth Gillia: Yeah, I mean, teenagers are harder to place. Infants are very appealing to people and teenagers come with a whole set of life experiences that sometimes resource parents, that's what we call foster parents now because they are a resource both to the children and to the families that that we serve. So, resource parents can be coached and be especially interested in older youth. And we want to make sure that we support them in providing the services and care of love, dedication that older youth need.

Taylor Velazquez: And before we go further into specifics, I think it's important to talk about the Kevin S lawsuit that was settled back in 2020. The settlement has been touted as groundbreaking and the first of its kind in the nation; can you kind of walk me through the settlement and what it's asking of both CYFD and the Human Services Department?

Beth Gillia: Sure. So, I just want to put a little bit of context around the Kevin S lawsuit before we even go into what we committed to do to improve the system. Kevin S may be touted as one of the first of its kind in the nation. But actually, most states in the nation have actually experienced a lawsuit similar to Kevin S, so it's not a particularly unusual kind of lawsuit. Our, the lawsuit against the state really raised some fundamental issues about how our system works in New Mexico. And we agreed, because we believe we need system change, we believe, to some fundamental systemic changes in four areas. One is that we agreed to create a trauma responsive system of care that relies on collaborative decision making with agencies, community partners, but most importantly, children and families. We agree to ensure that children are placed in the most family like setting so the least restrictive environments and appropriate placements and that was in response to concerns about kids being placed out of state unnecessarily, and also in offices. And we also agreed to fully implement the Indian Child Welfare Act, and to make sure that we provide culturally appropriate and culturally responsive services to our Native American children and families. And last but not least, we agree to rebuild our behavioral health system, and ensure that the children and parents in our system get the behavioral health services that they need in their own communities.

Taylor Velazquez: And talking about that, the CYFD and Human Services Department was kind of given increments to meet when it comes to addressing all those four issues, like you just mentioned. How is the department doing and implementing these mandates.

Beth Gillia: So, we're working really, really hard. And I will just say, like, as I mentioned, most states have had lawsuits like this. And in many, many other states, these lawsuits take between 16 and 20 years to accomplish the goals of the lawsuit. We set some really, really aggressive timeline goals for ourselves, because we believe fully in the commitments we made in a lawsuit. So, we hope to be out of this lawsuit, well out of this settlement in five years. The first year was challenging for us, I won't, I won't say that we hit the targets we intended to hit. But we are working incredibly hard and making tremendous progress now on all of those commitments.

Taylor Velazquez: For teens, they really want to fit in and do everything that their peers are doing. How is CYFD providing the resources so that foster kids are able to find part time jobs, go to school activities like prom or join their clubs, and even apply to the very tedious process of college applications?

Beth Gillia: Sure. So, a number of years ago, I'm not going to remember exactly when but a number of years ago, we embrace the idea of prudent parenting in the system. And that idea is that our resource parents should be able to behave as they would toward their own children when making decisions about whether children in their care can do things like go to prom, or drive a car or have a sleepover, just like they would if it was their very own child. And so, they don't need to come to the department's workers and say I want to I want my foster child to be able to go to prom. It used to be that they needed to get permission from the department for all those kinds of decisions. Now we just say, we trust you foster parents, you are good parents, you know what considerations to take into account to know whether the child is safe. And so, we allow you to do it. So, we support the resource parents, and making those kinds of decisions for them.

Taylor Velazquez: And I also want to bring in Eli Fresquez, sorry, excuse me, Director of Children Rights, (pause) Children's Rights at the New Mexico Youth, Children, Youth and Families Department. Good morning, Eli. Thanks for joining us.

Eli Fresquez: Good morning. Can you hear me?

Taylor Velazquez: And to start, yes, we can hear you perfectly. And to start off the Office of Children. Rights is a new office at CYFD. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you and your team are doing and why the office was created?

Eli Fresquez: Yeah, absolutely. This is a really exciting initiative that was started last year. And we've really been working diligently to set it up and our core function is really to provide a voice for children and youth in CYFD and provide them with services. So, if they have questions or concerns about public benefits or disability, or if they have questions about education or immigration services, they can come to us and it's a really exciting place. And we also have a foster child youth Bill of Rights as well. And folks can find that on CYFD.org under “youth Bill of Rights”. And so, we really want to let folks know that these kinds of services are available for children and youth who are receiving CYFD services. And, you know, I do want to point out, it's, it's really great to hear the voice of teens and youth who have a shared experience with CYFD. I think Micaela had mentioned education and those kinds of challenges with placements. We've been working really closely with a lot of local school districts, including Albuquerque public schools, with something called “Every Student Succeeds Act”, it’s a federal law, really trying to maintain school of origin, and really trying to help youth and teens and transitioning young adults, to have those kinds of education services so that we can minimize transitions, and really support them. And I think Alyssa had mentioned about not knowing her rights. And so, we really want to encourage, you know, our workers, and also people within the system of adjudication, to know that there is a foster child and youth Bill of Rights. It's available for everyone. It's on our website. And also, we have a dedicated phone line. So, folks are, you know, it's children or youth who are receiving services want to reach out to us, they can call the number and that number is 505-228-6797.

Taylor Velazquez: Trauma is something that comes a lot comes up a lot in these conversations about foster care. Your office provides direct representation for youth addressing mental health services. How do you all ensure that mental health treatment can be positive experiences for youth?

Eli Fresquez: Yeah, so we do a lot of collaboration with our partners at the Human Services Department, and also with our behavioral health service providers. And then, of course, our behavioral health experts here at CYFD. So, we really believe in individual planning, focused and teaming and wraparound services. So, you know, one, one things invested mentioned this about Kevin S, is, you know, these behavioral health services that we're trying to rebuild, but it's really required us to be collaborative with our other partnering agencies. So again, working really closely with the behavioral health experts, HSD and CYFD to provide those wrap services for children, teens and transitioning youth.

Taylor Velazquez: And you work with a team of youth advocates, how has this changed the way you look at foster care? I mean, what are they urging you to do or urging you to implement?

Eli Fresquez: Yeah, you know, it's all about listening. And it's about getting out into the community, listening to resource families, listening to children, and youth, because they really know what the issues are. So, they're the voice. And so, I really see our office as a place to learn from the children and youth who are receiving our services, because they know where the gaps and services are. So just hearing, Micaela and Alyssa today is really great. And, you know, we have a lot of ways of providing services, but we need to hone those services in based on what we hear from our youth and children.

Taylor Velazquez: Great and it's time for a quick break. You're listening to Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9k. UNM, I'm Taylor Velazquez, and we'll be back in a minute.


Taylor Velazquez: And we're back. Welcome to Let's Talk New Mexico on KUNM, there's still time to call in this morning at 505-277-5866, and I want to bring back Eli, the director of children's rights at New Mexico Youth, Children, Youth and Families Department. Eli, you were just talking about how you're working with youth advocates and how you're going to hear their voices throughout your work and what you're doing but how will you ensure that youth first voices are heard?

Eli Fresquez: Yeah, I think we're going to ensure that by again, listening and getting out in the community, we've been providing a lot of trainings on our procedures. Youth can reach out to us so these are used to receiving services that CYFD, foster children, and they can file a grievance with their with our office. We have a dedicated email address, and that cyfd.youthgrievance@state.nm.us. And of course, they can call or text that number I just gave earlier; 505-228-6797. And they can file a grievance with us in our office. And we have two children's rights specialists on staff who will help investigate and really see where the log jam is going in the in the service arrays, in the systems that we have. We also have on staff in education rights attorney, an immigration rights attorney, and we will soon be having a disability rights attorney joining us as well. So, we're open if there are issues or concerns or if someone wants to reach out and talk with somebody, if the navigation to the CYFD system, they can reach out to us directly. And we're required by our procedures to contact folks either the same day or the next day and begin that conversation and see what we can do whether it's a formal grievance or an informal agreements.

Taylor Velazquez: And I want to include Beth Gillia, Deputy Secretary for New Mexico Children, Youth and Families department. You know, we've heard just from a lot of people this morning that foster care really counts on community and everyone that works and goes into it. So why is it so important to build community support systems?

Beth Gillia: Well, if you think about your own existence, in your own childhood, in your family, really none of us grow up in an isolated family. And we really all have natural supports that we rely on without even thinking about it. We rely on teachers, we rely on coaches, we rely on mentors rely on, you know, daycare programs. And we really, we really can't function in isolation. So, it's just a natural way that humans interact with each other. And so, we're trying to recreate that for children and youth who unfortunately have to be removed from their families. I wanted to just acknowledge something if you don't mind me going back just a little, um, you were talking earlier about sort of overmedication and Alyssa and Micaela touched on this. And I wanted to just acknowledge that, you know, a number of years ago, one of the ways we brought in community was on the issue of overmedication of children in foster care, which was a nationwide epidemic actually. And with input from Micaela and Alyssa and a number of other youth and professionals from the community we've created protocols now at CYFD to make sure that children in foster care are not over medicated. And so, we look for we have regular processes, looking for red flags, like very young children who are on psychotropic meds, medications being used off label or multiple medications being used at once. And so, we're now tracking and making sure that kids are not being over made medicated or used inappropriately and that Alyssa and Micaela were critical in in that change of practice.

Taylor Velazquez: And I would like to introduce my last guest Erika Poindexter, lawyer and resource parents. Welcome, Erika.

Erika Poindexter: Thank you.

Taylor Velazquez: And we've been talking about the Kevin S lawsuit throughout the morning with the lawsuit with each department involved should be making these interment, incremental progress, like we had mentioned, and in your legal opinion. Do you think they're meeting that standard that set out for them?

Erika Poindexter: No.

Taylor Velazquez: And can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Erika Poindexter: I am not directly involved in the Kevin S lawsuit. But I have spoken with a number of attorneys who are and there's just a concern that those milestones are not being met, and more importantly, that the youth meant to be helped by that lawsuit are not feeling change. And that is, you know, of course, that's the whole purpose is that we want them to feel that change. We want families to feel that change. And yes, these things do take a lot of time to implement. There's no question about that. And part of that is building a network of services that will help in that and I think one of the problems that we have is that our mental health services in particular in New Mexico went through a great deal of change. And so, they are not as robust as we need them to be to serve the children and youth of New Mexico.

Taylor Velazquez: And when we're talking about foster care, some people might think that it was really a misconception that when kids get taken out of their homes, it's they're taken for good. And they go into the system. But we had talked about unit reunification, especially when it comes to teens. Does reunification happen often and what does that look like?

Erika Poindexter: It does happen often; it should happen often. I think one of the issues is and I think as a community, that community needs to understand that that is CYFD’s goal. The goal is not to take children permanently out of their homes and find them new homes. That's not what CYFD’s mandate is, they are trying to reunify families. And so that can be difficult and draining for every person involved in that, but particularly our youth. They enter the system at different ages and so, we need to look very closely at what it looks like for a child who is seven, entering the foster care system versus a child who's 14, because they are going to have very different life experiences. And we really need to concentrate on the idea that we need to tailor care for that specific child.

Taylor Velazquez: And so far, this morning, we've heard from young people who's been in the system, we've heard from department heads that kind of walked us through what that process looks like. But you actually represented biological parents of kids who had gone through the foster care system. What does it look like to represent those parents and have your clients been stigmatized by the system,

Erika Poindexter: It can be very difficult for those parents. I think everyone who encounters foster care as a biological parent is going to feel some level of stigma. No one wants to be told that they're not properly caring for their child. But there definitely are times where it is appropriate for there to be intervention, to make sure everyone in the home is safe. I was lucky to have very good clients who really wanted to work with CYFD, were open to the plan that CYFD had to reunify them with their children and work those plans to get those kids back in their home as quickly as possible. And my role in that was, obviously I am advocating for those parents. But also, oftentimes I was counseling them along the way to make sure that they maintain connection with their caseworker, to make sure that they were continuing to engage with the services that were being provided because those were critical to them getting their children back.

Taylor Velazquez: And you're also resource parent on top of representing in the court, and you have adopted in the past; can you talk more about why you wanted to become a resource parents and what that process looked like for you?

Erika Poindexter: So, I actually had no intention of becoming a resource parent. My son when he was, I believe it was six years old, just really, he was he wanted a sibling, he really wanted a sibling. So, I said, okay, let's look at adopting. And, you know, I wanted to do that locally, I didn't want to do a foreign adoption. At some point, I spoke with someone at CYFD. And they introduced the idea of becoming a resource parent. And after talking with my son and family members, we decided that that would be what we would like to do, that if we could help kids for a specified period of time, get back to their homes that we would be willing to do that. And if for some reason something didn't work out, we want it to be that safe place for them to land.

Taylor Velazquez: And how can we support teens in foster care to make sure they have successful lives with their resource parents.

Erika Poindexter: I think a lot of that comes down to training resource parents appropriately. I both a resource parent, I'm also a board member of New Mexico Children First Network, and we do a lot of training and advocacy on behalf of resource parents and foster youth. And one of the things that I noticed is, again, if you're 14 years old, coming into care, many of those kids have their very sophisticated in a sense that they know how to take care of themselves in terms of you know figuring out a way to get resources for themselves. They've had to do it. We don't want them to have to do it, but they've had to do it. And now they're at the cusp of adulthood, and they need to be ushered into adulthood. And that's very different than caring for a five year old, a six year old, who is kind of just starting school and really wants an attachment to mom and dad. Those foster youth who are older, are really looking for a lot of love. But they're also looking for a lot of mentorship, because they need the skills to be adults. I think the Fostering Connections was a wonderful idea. I'm so glad the legislator jumped on that. Legislature jumped on that and made sure that that got passed, because there is this transitional period where someone's turned 18. But they're not a full-fledged adult.

Taylor Velazquez: Yeah, for sure. You know, you just talked about teens and what they need out of a resource parents, you know, there have other priorities, they have next steps, whether that's college or jobs, or how to get their transportation. And do you think we should be sitter, could be considering creating a whole separate system for teens that provides the resources that are more tailored to them?

Erika Poindexter: I not sure that under current law, we would be able to do that. But yes, I think overall, yes. I think teens are, you know, they're they have very unique needs in the system, and are very unique places in their lives. And some of our teens are parents themselves. And so they are, you know, it would be awkward to drop them in a traditional family setting with their newborn and think that they're, you know, going to have the same kind of experience as a seven year old, you know, they're trying to figure out how to be parents themselves. They need more on the mentorship and, and so we have a lot of folks in the community who are involved in helping teens transition to adulthood. And I don't want to leave out our wonderful Court Appointed Special Advocates casas, because while these kids are oftentimes experiencing changes in in resource homes, changes in schooling, changes in attorneys. Oftentimes, I hear that it's their court appointed court appointed special advocate their casa, who is the consistent person in their lives all the time. And so, we need more, we need a lot more. So, if anyone's thinking about that they want to get involved in helping foster youth. But maybe they don't feel like a being a resource parent is the correct step for them. There is something else that they can engage in. And that is being a casa and so if you're interested in that, Casa New Mexico has a website, I encourage anyone to go and really look at that and see what they can do to help the kids in our community.

Taylor Velazquez: For sure and it's estimated that 1200 to 2300 young people are experiencing homelessness in Bernalillo. County. This data ranges from young adults ages 15 to 25. While not everyone in this number is part of the foster care system. How much of a factor is foster care in this kind of intersecting issue of homelessness?

Erika Poindexter: I think it is a it's a huge issue. And I think part of it is because our resources are stretched across the state across the state. And what we don't want is for older youth to walk away from foster care because they don't feel their needs are being met. And I think that is a definitely a portion of those foster care, of those youth who are currently experiencing homelessness. We want them to stay engaged, we want them to stay engaged in services, we want them to be heard. So, you know, Alyssa, Micaela, I hear you. They have a place in this a really important role to play in telling us what foster youth actually need.

Taylor Velazquez: And, you know, you just spoke about your legal perspective and your resource parent perspective, what would you say to people who are considering being resource parents, especially to teens?

Erika Poindexter: That they need to really think about how they want to train themselves to become resource parents to teens, not to an infant. That's a very different model of parenting, but to teens in particular. So, you know, one there is the mental health side of what's going on with foster youth. And so, it's good to start building a network of resources in terms of counselors, doctors, any, anyone you can reach out to other folks foster parents are going to be a big resource to make sure that that those mental health needs are being met right away. But also thinking back on what your own parents taught you, when you were transitioning to adulthood, these kids oftentimes, you know, one of their big needs, there's going to be financial literacy, they're gonna have to know how to handle their money moving into adulthood. It's an important skill we all need to learn; if you have a resource parent who is also a, you know, is parenting a youth who has a child themselves, again, that's a different model. And they need to understand and be able to help that youth learn how to parent appropriately because we don't want even though we oftentimes see it is a second or third generation having contact with the foster care system.

Taylor Velazquez: It's so important, like you said, just to break those cycles from the beginning. And from your legal perspective, I know you represented biological parents, but I'm sure you've seen cases with foster kids as well. What do you think is missing from our legal system?

Erika Poindexter: Our legal system is really working hard to try and kind of catch up with today's youth. I think one of the things that happens is, you know, we, we write and codify law. And those laws may be, you know, 20, 30 years old, and our society has kind of moved on since then. And so, we're constantly kind of like playing catch up legislatively to make sure that we're meeting the needs of our youth and families in New Mexico. So, I think a lot of what we need is we need to look at the Children's code again, again, and make sure that we are definitely working in a direction where we can meet the needs of the youth and care.

Taylor Velazquez: And unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Thanks to everyone who called an email to share your thoughts and thank you so much to our guest, Erika Poindexter, Arika Sanchez, Micaela Baca, Beth Gillia, Eli Fresquez, and Alyssa Davis. And let's keep the conversation going. Share your thoughts and ideas on Twitter using the hashtag #LetsTalkNM. On Facebook, you can search for KUNM radio, or you can leave us an email at LetsTalk@kunm.org. Tune in next week and we'll be discussing a topic with Nash Jones, and New Mexico with the insurance issues in New Mexico without a cost for behavioral health. And if you miss part of the show, stream it online or subscribe to our podcasts on Spotify or Apple podcasts. Our engineer for this morning was Marino Spencer, Kaveh Mowahed screened your calls., Robert Maldonado live tweeted the show and News Director Megan Kamerick is our executive producer. I'm Taylor Velazquez, this is Let's Talk New Mexico on 89.9 KUNM.

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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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