(ALBUQUERQUE) -Governor Susana Martinez said in a news conference Wednesday that the major changes were sparked by the death of Omaree Varela, 9, in December.
The boy’s mother is charged with his death.
CYFD had 9 referrals regarding the boy’s family. However, Omaree was not removed from the home.
Martinez said after Omaree’s death she called for an extensive review of his cases. She said that is when it was determined that changes were necessary.
“Today we’re announcing numerous policy changes directives and initiatives aimed at keeping New Mexico children safe,” Martinez said.
Martinez announced a dozen new initiatives and policies starting with how to handle cases where the family has been visited multiple times.
“For any family in New Mexico that has faced two CYFD investigations, whether abuse or neglect was substantiated or not, I am directing CYFD to perform a supervisory high-level review involving that family,” Martinez said.
Albuquerque Police officers talked to Omaree three times before his death.
Now the governor said police must call CYFD when investigating any case of possible child abuse so they are briefed on any CYFD contact with the family.
She ordered the same for CYFD case workers.
“I will be requiring CYFD case workers to seek police reports and other law enforcement materials relating to the cases before rendering an investigative decisions,” Martinez said. “It makes no sense for an officer and case worker to work on the same case and never share notes or even speak with one another beyond their initial meeting. They might see the case differently.”
Many people like Senator Michael Padilla said the major changes were long overdue.
“Its a good start but it doesn’t even meet half of the requirements that are going to be needed by CYFD,” Padilla said.
Senator Padilla said the governor left out about 10 critical items CYFD needs to include a specialized group to work with the courts to ensure kids are safe.
He also said there is nothing in the governor’s plan on how to handle the possibility that there could be an increase in children removed from homes.
“Today if we implemented some of the changes that the governor stated were going to need a significant amount of foster homes,” Padilla said.
The governor is also working on putting law enforcement and CYFD workers in the same buildings called child advocacy centers.
Albuquerque already has one such center but CYFD employees do not work there yet.
The governor said Valencia County will be next because of its high volume of child abuse cases.
The governor announced another plan to hire more caseworkers for the understaffed department. She said she’s hiring a recruiter to work with New Mexico State University and schools of social work.