- On March 29, 2013
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ALBUQUERQUE – Governor Susana Martinez visited Calico Butterfly Preschool today and signed into law two major public safety initiatives that will help to protect New Mexico’s children. Surrounded by kids, the governor signed Senate Bill 41, giving the Children, Youth, and Families Department access to immediate federal criminal background checks in emergency foster placement situations. Often, when a child is removed from their home in an emergency situation, he or she will be placed with another family member or close family friend. However, current law does not allow CYFD to run immediate background checks on those individuals to ensure the child’s safety. SB 41 will allow those background checks to take place right away instead of over the course of days or weeks, which will help protect a vulnerable child from another potentially dangerous situation.
“A child going through an emergency foster placement has already been victimized once. Immediate background checks in those situations will help keep children safe when they are placed in state custody,” said Governor Martinez. “By allowing CYFD to process background checks on emergency foster caregivers immediately, we can ensure that children in need are not placed in another dangerous situation, while minimizing the likelihood that the child will have to go through yet another emergency placement if a background check turns up a criminal history weeks down the road. During this extremely vulnerable situation, the child’s physical safety and mental health is always our top priority.”
“These background checks are essential to the safety of a child during an emergency foster placement,” said Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque), who sponsored the legislation and guided it through the legislative process. “This bill provides an invaluable tool to the people who are charged with keeping our kids out of harm’s way when they are endangered in their own homes.”
CYFD’s Secretary Yolanda Deines says the Department has faced challenges before because of the inability to run immediate background checks. Those problems led the agency and governor Martinez to seek this change.
“Everything we do as an agency is to protect children from harm,” says Deines. “This bill gives us an important tool to help keep kids safe. We appreciate Governor Martinez’s support, from the very beginning, of this important legislation.”
Martinez says that in 2005, five children were taken into state custody and placed with grandparents. CYFD initiated a background check, which would take weeks. The background check later revealed that the grandfather had been convicted of rape and murder in Texas. Caseworkers had to quickly move the children to another foster placement. An immediate background check would have prevented the children from an unsafe situation and would have avoided the compounded trauma of forcing the children to move yet again.
Governor Martinez also signed House Bill 104, allowing law enforcement to issue an Amber Alert for a child who is believed to have been abducted by a family member. Previously, New Mexico law enforcement agencies could only issue Amber Alerts if a child was abducted by a non-relative.
“It’s important that we do everything we can to protect an endangered child,” Governor Martinez added. “Currently, our Amber Alert statutes require law enforcement to sit on the sidelines when a child is taken by a family member. This bill will enable our state and local police agencies to conduct the all-out search that is necessary to find a child who has been abducted, whether it’s by a stranger or a family member.”
Last year, the Fort Worth (TX) police department issued an Amber Alert for an 11-year-old girl named Jessica Smith. Jessica was abducted by her mother and was believed to be endangered and possibly transported to New Mexico. New Mexico State Police were able to issue an amber alert in cooperation with the Fort Worth police department and Jessica was found five days later near Tres Piedras. However, if that child had been abducted in New Mexico, NMSP and local law enforcement would have been prohibited by law from issuing an amber alert and the child may have never been found. Under HB 104, that restriction will be lifted.
Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-Belen), who sponsored HB 104, added, “We have to be able to act quickly to do everything possible to protect an endangered child. Whether a child is abducted by a family member, an acquaintance, or a complete stranger, that child is in danger. By expanding our Amber Alert law, we are giving law enforcement an important tool that they can use to quickly find a missing child and possibly even save a life.”
“This is a great day for children in New Mexico,” says Deines. “We have moved forward with additional tools to keep kids safe.”