Waiting for Help: Child endangerment skyrockets, Repeated warnings ignored by administration

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This is the second in a three-part series on New Mexico’s child welfare crisis.  Looking for the beginning? Start here.

Since Martinez took office in 2011, the number of children enduring sustained mistreatment after CYFD intervention has climbed dramatically while workloads for agency staff has dramatically risen (Source, p.22).

Yet, millions of dollars designated for child protection goes unspent as abuse reports and case worker vacancies and caseloads increase.

In 2011, 3-year-old Leland Valdez was killed by his caregivers after CYFD administrators failed to

Leland Valdez

remove him from the home.  Martinez’s said she was “personally involved” in investigating the problem and committed to preventing future tragedies. Yet, since she made those statements, vacancies have increased dramatically, workloads have increased by record numbers and the administration’s response has been to hold vacant critical positions to fund budget surpluses.

MORE CHILDREN SUFFERING ABUSE AND SUSTAINED NEGLECT

The number of New Mexico children in foster care has risen year-over-year and CYFD reports that it investigated more than 21,000 allegations of abuse last year – a 27% increase in workload since Martinez took office.    (source: CYFD 360-degree annual report, 2013).

And it’s not just the number of reports on the rise.  In 2013 alone, the agency accepted 18,179 of those reports for investigation. That’s an increase of 1,089 more cases in just one year.

After years of decline, the number of children enduring sustained mistreatment after CYFD

7 Statewide Central Intake Reports of Abuse and Neglect

7
Statewide Central Intake Reports of Abuse and Neglect

intervention has climbed dramatically since 2011, (Source, p.22) with more than 230 children under CYFD supervision reporting sustained mistreatment in one quarter of FY12 alone.

According to reports reviewed and compiled by ProgressNow New Mexico, oversight agencies were sounding the alarm almost from day 1:

  •  “in the fourth quarter of FY12, 231 children were identified to have experienced substantiated maltreatment within six months of a previous determination, and 19 children in foster care were the subject of substantiated maltreatment.” – LFC report to Legislature, Jan 2013
  • “The percent of children subjected to substantiated maltreatment increased in FY2013.” – LFC report card, 2013
  • “Protective Services (PS) is struggling to meet its FY14 targets… the existing high vacancy rates exacerbate high case loads and staff burnout.” (source: LFC 2014 Q1 agency report card)

The average caseload for a New Mexico CPS worker is 21.7 cases – almost twice the recommended average of 15 per worker. (2010 report)

CHILDREN WAITING FOR HELP
In 2013, CYFD completed a report to the US Department of Health and Human Services.  In it, the agency outlines it’s accomplishments in meeting federal standards for child welfare.

For 2012, CYFD reported that 23.0% of investigations conducted were pending more than 30 days – that’s almost four times the national target (p.28) and up 4% from the previous year.

In fact, in 2012 CYFD met none of it’s national targets related to preventing child maltreatment.

Today in New Mexico, someone – often, as in Omaree’s case, the child himself – calls for help for a child in danger every 16 minutes.  But with fewer case workers to respond and more cases to handle, someone somewhere will have to wait.

Around the same time CYFD received it’s last known report about Omaree Varela in October 2012, the agency accepted 1,410 new reports of abuse or neglect in Bernalillo County involving 370 children.

Yet, despite these startling rise in workload for the agency over two years,  we found that the administration held vacant more than 100 funded child welfare positions, transferred millions of dollars designated for child protective service positions out of personnel budgets and returned millions more dollars allocated to protect children back to the general fund unspent.

Read more about the vacancy rates and funding transfers in the final report here.