Groups demand CYFD reform, department responds

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) — As uproar continues following the death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela with several groups now calling for accountability, one state senator says he agrees, in general, with the push for change, saying his calls for more oversight on CYFD have been met with opposition by the head of the department, which is wants to see other reforms.

In a room full of community members Sunday, two civil rights organizations and a church community group made a call for “action” and “accountability” in the death of nine year old Omaree Varela, launching a new petition.

“Everyone should be upset,” said Dr. Harold Bailey, president of the NAACP in Albuquerque.

“Somebody dropped the ball,” said Rev. Dr. Charles Becknell Sr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico.

“People need to be held responsible for their actions,” said Rev. N. Darnell Smith, president of the Ministers Fellowship of Albuquerque.

The local civil rights and faith based leaders are hoping for thousands of resident to join their cause, that calls for the Secretary of CYFD, Yolanda Deines, to be fired. But the group is also calling on lawmakers.

“Representatives, Senators and Mayor, Governor in order that there may be justice brought in the case of little Omaree,” said Rev. Smith.

In response, State Senator Michael Padilla told News 13 Sunday that he in general agrees with the movement for change.

“This community outcry demands action,” said Sen. Padilla.

The Albuquerque Democrat would not say if he supports the firing of the secretary, but says he’s already done some legislative pushing for change on CYFD. His Senate Joint Resolution would get CYFD to produce a report on a variety of issues at CYFD relating to abuse cases, also how and when kids are pulled from homes.

Senator Padilla says it passed the Senate floor with “bi-partisan support,” a 32 to 5 vote. The five “no” votes all came from Republicans, however, nine Republican senators voted for it.

However, Senator Padilla says he was surprised by who he claims hasn’t embraced the legislation from the beginning: Secretary Yolanda Deines.

Referring to a hearing on the legislation in late January, Senator Padilla said, “the Secretary showed up to oppose my legislation and one of the chief reasons that she opposed it was saying that the information just wasn’t available.”

Meanwhile, CYFD says it has its own idea as to how to make change, responding to the group’s announcement on Sunday. In a statement from the department’s spokesman Henry Varela, CYFD wrote:

“Secretary Deines supports CYFD caseworkers who work on the front-line of one of the toughest jobs anyone could have. That’s why she’s fighting for pay raises for CYFD caseworkers, working to strengthen the child abuse reporting law, and supporting a preventive program to support families at risk for abuse. These are the efforts we should be working toward together and it would be more productive if this group puts their energy towards these efforts to keep our kids safe in New Mexico.”

Padilla’s legislation, Senate Joint Memorial 3 now has to go through a couple House committees then a full House vote. Meanwhile, another piece of legislation, House Bill 333, or what’s been dubbed “Omaree’s Law,” has been introduced to the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would require CYFD to take immediate custody of any child who shows signs of abuse like bruises, burns and bite marks.

Meanwhile, the community petition now circulating also calls for APD to fire the two officers who responded to Omaree’s home months before his death. The officers were responding to a 911 call made from the home while recorded Omaree’s mother and step-father, Synthia Varela Casaus and Steve Casaus yelling and cursing at the boy.

Petition organizers say they’ll deliver their work to several officials including Governor Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Police Chief Allen Banks and Mayor Richard Berry.

News 13 contacted the Mayor’s Office about the petition on Sunday. The Mayor’s Office referred to comment Mayor Berry made to News 13 in an interview earlier this week, also adding that the Mayor is waiting for the results of an internal investigation before taking any further action. Mayor Berry also said this week that the city will fund a task force to bring in experts to create a plan to prevent any death like Omaree’s from happening again.

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