Despite the beginning of a limited dialogue with lawmakers and advocates, a letter issued on Sept. 18 by the Kevin S lawsuit monitors shows that the state’s troubled Children, Youth and Families Department has not only failed to improve from its sorry state but has actually gotten worse.
The monitors – called “co-neutrals” per the terms of the 2020 settlement of the 2018 lawsuit filed by 14 foster youth – describe a sort of stasis within CYFD that is grinding down the already overburdened staff. The most shocking revelation from their letter is that CYFD paused hiring of supervisors and frontline workers in May. Two rapid hiring events held since that pause did not include hiring of supervisors and senior workers.
The result is predictable. And devastating to a stressed workforce.
From the letter: “Because of substantial vacancies, all the CYFD county office managers with whom we met described serving as the primary caseworker for between 25 and 40 children currently.”
The letter goes on to say, “These case assignments, we were told, in numerous instances do not appear in the agency’s data reports.”
Nothing to see here. Everything is fine.
The Child Welfare League of America and Council on Accreditation have set caseload standards for various categories of frontline child welfare workers. The standards range from 8-17 depending on the type of work (investigator, child protective services, social worker, etc.). And these standards assume that you have one job and are not the county CYFD manager.
There is a snowball effect from this staffing shortage. Many caseworkers have insufficient, or even no supervision. On-call assignments are scheduled more frequently, requiring workers to go without sleep for more than 24 hours several times a month when they must respond to overnight calls and then report to work the following morning. The sleep deprivation is exacerbated by these workers having to undertake extensive drives to transport children due to a lack of transportation aides, posing a safety risk to all.
As CYFD staff endures greater stress and sheer exhaustion, their clients go without vital services. Poor communication as workers have less time to contact caregivers has resulted in more families closing their homes to new placements. Training and processing delays have created a backlog in onboarding new foster families. This means there are fewer family and foster homes in which to place children in need.
As a result, children are spending nights in CYFD offices or other unsuitable shelters. The caseworkers who spend the night with children in their offices report they are not trained as caregivers and feel unprepared and sometimes unsafe.
Adoptions are backlogged, extinguishing hope for children and parents seeking a forever family.
Two major events are taking place at the time of this writing. First a major reorganization of CYFD is to take place. No one is sure what their new role will be; moreover, in their current crisis mode few believe their current day-to-day work could change.
Next, one of the largest providers of behavioral health services in Bernalillo County for CYFD is closing. At the time of the monitors’ letter, there was no plan to transition the children in state custody to other providers to ensure continuity of care. It was also noted that the state Human Services Department seemed to be offering no assistance to obtain care for these children.
The letter closed by observing that this time last year, the monitors considered CYFD to be an agency “in crisis.” In 2023, instead of making progress, CYFD is now an agency “in a state of chaos.”
It is understandable to be shaken by innocent children losing their lives in the crossfire of gun violence. It is a hard problem where solutions seem evasive. CYFD, however, is firmly under the governor’s control.
I will agree with her defenders that it was broken when she came into office. But it has not improved. And CYFD has not merely languished in her tenure in office; it has collapsed.
I am sure the effort to impeach the governor over the open carry/concealed carry executive order offers great political theater. I wrote previously why I believe the executive order to have been an overreach and poorly drafted. With thousands of children impacted daily, the brazen mismanagement of CYFD and shameless resistance to any external accountability are far greater gubernatorial transgressions.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appeared regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at email@example.com.