ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When kids have no place to go, families across the state open up their homes. However, as KRQE News discovered on Special Assignment, the need outweighs what’s actually available.
Time and time again when parents mess up, it’s often kids who suffer, and authorities are faced with tough decisions.
“We are either given custody by law enforcement or we go to the courts and we petition the courts to get custody of a kid,” explained Monique Jacobson, Cabinet Secretary for the Children Youth and Families Department.
CYFD is the state agency that steps in when kids are abused or neglected.
“We definitely have a need for additional foster parents,” Jacobson said.
That’s where families like the Contrucci’s come in.
“There’s a need and we have the space. We love kids and maybe we can help them,” said Maria Contrucci.
“People have more in them than they think they do,” her husband, Paul Contrucci, added.
The couple learned that about themselves when they started fostering seven years ago. Since then, they’ve opened their home and hearts to more than 70 kids.
Right now they are among 1,314 foster parents in the state.
In New Mexico this year alone, 2,674 children are in CYFD custody.
But there’s another number that might be surprising.
KRQE News 13 looked into the amount of “over-placements” granted by the state, which is when more than six kids are allowed in one home.
In 2013, there were 84 foster homes in New Mexico with more children than the state’s recommended maximum.
That number has since gone up. Last year there were 124 over-placements. As of June this year, there are 152 foster homes in the state with over-placements and nearly a third of them are in Bernalillo County.
“Often times when we have over-placements, it’s because we’re keeping sibling groups together,” Jacobson explained.
When kids lose everything — home or a parent — and their world is turned upside down, separating siblings can be another blow.
It’s something the Contrucci’s recognized when they took in their first fosters years ago, a sibling group of five kids. Maria says at the time, the children were 3, 4, and 5 years old, and the twins were 7.
“And they’re still with us today because we adopted them,” she said.
It’s a full house — the Contrucci’s currently care for 11 kids. Their decision to foster came with an agreement with their biological son, 16-year-old Josh, who will stay the oldest in the home.
Josh knows his family is different, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it because you get to see people’s lives change forever,” Josh said.
When asked to describe his household in one word, Josh replied, “Amazing.”
CYFD says placing more than six kids in a home isn’t a decision taken lightly.
Workers take into consideration experience, adults in the home, and make sure each child is safe and has sufficient space to sleep.
“So even though there are more kids in that house than we would ideally have, it can still be a pretty wonderful situation,” Jacobson said.
The Contrucci’s have a system, and school is a priority.
Maria stays home making sure kids get to counseling appointments and visitations. The children stay active and each one has their own bike. And, the Contrucci’s don’t own a television.
“A lot of times with foster children, they have a lot of catching up to do, so you don’t even have time for TV anyways,” Paul said. “We teach them a lot of coping by life skills instead of withdrawing into television,” Maria added.
Their kids said they don’t miss it.
“Granted I don’t know what anybody’s talking about at school but I don’t really care,” Josh said. “I’d rather spend time out here.”
“They form bonds and they can talk and relate about how they’re feeling, and they help each other more than we help them, because they connect,” said Maria.
The Contrucci’s will tell you they’re no experts and learn with each kid, trying to inspire them at every turn. KRQE News 13 spotted a hand-written note from Paul taped in the stairwell which reads, “To my kids: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.”
“Imparting into a little child that you do have worth, you do have something to offer,” Paul explained, “You’ve inspired a human being. That changes the world.”
Monique Jacobson says CYFD is constantly trying to recruit more foster families, and they realize not every family can handle more than six kids.
CYFD currently has 447 Protective Service field workers and a 12 percent vacancy rate. That’s up from 340 Protective Service field workers and a 24 percent vacancy rate two years ago.