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New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department in search of ways to keep kids from sleeping in state office buildings

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state’s Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD) has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over children in their care who have been forced to sleep in its office buildings- but CYFD Secretary, Teresa Casados, says they’ve come up with at least one possible solution.

Reporter: “Don’t the workers and the children deserve better?”
CYFD Cabinet Secretary, Teresa Casados: “They absolutely do. They both do.”

As it stands today, the state has more than 2,000 children in their custody. In the last six months, a little more than 100 of them have needed to temporarily sleep in a state office building. That’s roughly about 29 kids each month.

“I think it’s a really difficult situation as a secretary, because I wish I had a magic wand and I could just end office stays, right?” said Cabinet Secretary of CYFD, Teresa Casados. “But I don’t have places for those kids, and so there’s really not an alternative that I can think of.”

Secretary Casados says there’s several reasons for this. Not enough foster families, children who refuse to stay with foster families, and the state’s requirement to take children in- even if they do not have room. “Even if we find a placement, they can refuse that placement, and that leaves us with no other alternative but to keep them in our office,” Secretary Casados explained.

A class-action lawsuit filed back in 2020, before Casados was appointed to her position, looked to fix living conditions for CYFD children. Out of that lawsuit settlement came a corrective action plan, but the state has struggled to meet the requirements, which includes no longer having children sleeping in office buildings.

“I think we’re at about a 45-50% compliance rate, but it’s been a challenge,” Secretary Casados added.

There is no hard deadline as to when the state needs to fulfill these requirements but it needs to prove that serious action has been taken to fix the problem. One of the ways the state is hoping to do that is through a new temporary housing facility they plan on opening in Albuquerque sometime this summer.

“We don’t have enough resource homes,” said Secretary Casados. “At least not the types of homes that we need for some of the trauma and things that kids are dealing with today.”

The Albuquerque facility would temporarily house 12 males, ages 12 through 17. It would also have in-house behavioral health services and would allow families to visit children in the facility. CYFD says they have been in talks with the State’s Finance Committee, looking for ways to bring extra resources to build even more facilities.

“I agree that those changes need to be made in this agency in order for us to provide better services for the youth that we serve- no doubt,” Secretary Casados said.

Earlier this year, CYFD had requested the help of employees from other state agencies to help tackle CYFD’s large number of backlogged cases. She says the department is no longer relying on other state department employees, saying a large portion of those cases have since been cleared.

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