Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed a series of initiatives that would make it easier for the state’s Children Youth and Families Department to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect.
While we believe those proposals have merit, we also have to question why the department has not been fully funded under her administration. The Albuquerque Journal has reported that the CYFD returned about $6.6 million that had been appropriated to it by the Legislature back to the general fund. This, at a time when the agency is dealing with chronic staff shortages.
Not only is the department not spending all the money it has been budgeted, but only a fraction of the money the CYFD does spend has gone toward actual intervention, according to a recent report by the Legislative Finance Committee. It found that of the agency’s $113 million budget for child protective services, only $8.3 million goes to in-home intervention and other preventative programs. The majority of the budget goes to foster care and adoption services, which the LFC says is much more expensive.
All of this comes in the wake of the December, 2013 death of Omaree Varela — allegedly kicked to death by his mother after the family had been referred to the CYFD nine times. The report by the Medical Investigator found blunt injuries on his head, chest, abdomen, back and extremities, along with bite marks and burns. The injuries were at different stages of healing, meaning they didn’t occur at the same time.
Martinez said the CYFD needs more authority to be able to intervene. The agency has few options short of removing a child from the home, and can only do that after a court finds “clear and convincing evidence that the child is in imminent danger.” Martinez wants the agency to be able to step in before then and require that parents and family members participate in treatment programs.
A bill by Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, that would have given the CYFD that authority died this year in the House Judiciary Committee before ever reaching the House floor, but LFC Chairman Lucky Varela told The Associated Press that he would vow to work with the department on legislation for next year’s session.
We appreciate that CYFD caseworkers have an incredibly difficult job, with not enough tools in the toolbox. There should be options beyond just removal from the home. We urge the Legislature to give them more flexibility to be able to address each unique situation.
At the same time, we urge Gov. Martinez to find different places to cut when she decides its time to trim the budget. We should not be pinching pennies when it comes to protecting children. She knows that, having devoted her career as a district attorney here to just that cause.