Waiting for Help: Gov. Martinez's CYFD Crisis

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Governor Martinez promised to make child welfare a top priority; but, since she took office children in need wait longer for help and new reports show her administration held vacant more than 100 positions responsible for helping children, all while pushing big corporate tax breaks with the money they saved from those jobs.

Albuquerque – The death of a former Albuquerque foster child at the hands of his biological mother has the child’s former foster parents criticizing CYFD, the agency responsible for protecting the state’s vulnerable children, as warnings about chronically high vacancy rates for state workers responsible for overseeing children in danger go unaddressed by the Martinez administration.

Following the holiday death of former CYFD charge Omaree Verela, ProgressNowNM undertook a review of child welfare under the Martinez administration.    We conducted a comprehensive review of more than 800 pages of reports, budgets and report cards to uncover exactly how this could happen and if warning signs were apparent that could have prevented this tragedy.

What we found points to a much larger problem.  Although Martinez ran on her record of having sought justice for Baby Briana, her approach to preventing similar tragedies, like that of Omaree Varela,  runs counter to her Stop Child Abuseplatform.

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 skyrocket.

The resulting three part report found the following:

  • Almost 1-in-4 cases referred for investigation at CYFD results in a child waiting more than 30-days for a result.  The national benchmark is less than 6%.  That number has climbed since Martinez took office.
  • Reports of neglect and abuse have risen 27% since Martinez took office – 18,000 in 2013, up more than 1,000 from 2012.
  • Following another high-profile death of a CYFD-investigated child in 2011, Martinez’s spokesperson 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 at CYFD, workloads have increased by record numbers and the administration’s response has been to hold vacant critical positions to fund budget surpluses.
  • Despite drastic increases in caseloads, the administration ended last year with 93 vacant positions in jobs responsible for investigating and responding to abuse.  Taxpayers paid more than $3.9 million for those jobs, yet the administration withheld more than $6 million in salary funds from the agency last year.
  • Though the legislature authorized just 5% vacancy rate, the agency maintained levels more than three times that giving the salary savings back to fund budget surpluses.
  • After years of movement to decrease the numbers, the number of children enduring sustained maltreatment after CYFD intervention rose sharply in FY12.  In response, the administration pushed for greater vacancy savings and ignored warnings from oversight agencies about critical high turnover, staff burnout and high caseloads.
  • 249 children under CYFD supervision endured sustained maltreatment in the last quarter of FY12, the same year Omaree reported his own abuse and was not removed from his mother.   That was a marked increase from the previous year.
  • Despite skyrocketing reports of abuse and neglect and repeated warnings of agency vacancies, the administration held open more child protective service positions each year, siphoning more money from those positions and leaving millions of tax dollars directed for child neglect investigations and protection unspent to fund a budget surplus.

Read the full reports:

PART 2: Abuse reports and number of children continuing to be abused skyrockets

PART 3: The administration diverts millions from caseworker positions, leaving more than 100 funded positions vacant and returns millions in child protection dollars unspent.