Child abuse report calls for early intervention

SANTA FE (KRQE) – A new report by Legislative Finance Committee shows child abuse and neglect cases are on the rise in New Mexico. The death of Omaree Varela has put the problem in the spotlight recently, and Thursday, CYFD and lawmakers got together to come up with solutions.

The report shows that thousands of New Mexico’s children are involved in possible abuse cases every year. But the talk Friday was more about early intervention and what CYFD can do to prevent abuse.

In December 2013, Omaree Varela was kicked to death by his mother, Synthia Varela Casaus. CYFD had been referred to the family nine times and police had at least three prior run-ins with the boy and his mother.

A new report by the legislative finance committee shows a lot more can be done to help child abuse victims like Omaree. “This report identifies ways to reduce child abuse and neglect based on the best research and then what are the costs and benefits of different program choices,” explained Charles Sallee, Legislative Finance Committee Deputy Director.

The 24-page report shows there are more than 30,000 possible cases of child abuse referred to CYFD each year. Sixty-three percent of abuse victims in New Mexico have a caregiver who abuses drugs, compared to the national average of 20 percent. It also shows that of the $113 million spent by Child Protective Services, most of the money goes toward foster care and adoption.

“Those statistics and that information is not new information to those of us who work in CYFD,” explained Yolanda Berumen-Deines, Cabinet Secretary for CYFD. Berumen-Deines said it’s a constant struggle.

But Friday, she and lawmakers focused on early intervention and preventative strategies. “I think we do a better service to our children if we can engage parents in services and keep them engaged long enough to really make a difference, and that will reduce referrals that we receive,” said Berumen-Deines.

Berumen-Deines said what would help, is legislation that would court order parents to cooperate with CYFD. Currently, they don’t have to.

Legislators also presented programs that would work more with lower risk cases of abuse. “So our point is rather than waiting for a family to spin out of control because we didn’t intervene early because they were low risk, lets intervene at that point in time, and reduce the likelihood that they’ll be coming back into the system,” explained Sallee.

The committee discussed programs that would work more long-term with families early on. CYFD hopes that will cut down on having to remove kids from their homes. Last week, Governor Susana Martinez announced a dozen new initiatives for CYFD. They include requiring police and CYFD to share more information. Some democratic lawmakers say her proposals don’t go far enough.

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