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New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department launches new center to keep foster kids from sleeping in offices



NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Foster teens sleeping overnight in office buildings: it’s a problem the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has promised to fix, as it struggles to find foster families. Now, the department is opening up what it calls a solution. KRQE News 13 spoke with CYFD about those plans and others who feel its not enough.

“It’s been a long year for me since I came onboard a year ago, in really trying to restructure the agency,” said Teresa Casados, cabinet secretary for CYFD. One of the problems CYFD has dealt with as the state faces a lack of foster families surrounds kids and teens staying overnight in their offices—where conflicts between workers and foster children have escalated to the point of 9-1-1 calls.

The situation—highlighted in a KRQE Investigates report—has been hard to fix according to Casados, who says the agency has had little luck signing up new foster parents.

“From the 124 events that I think we’ve had, we had 19 people that actually engaged with us after those events,” Casados said. Despite low interest, the department’s been working to get kids out of CYFD’s offices in a different way: a new multipurpose home for boys aged 12 and up in Albuquerque.

“It’s a CYFD facility that we have. It used to be the Girl’s Reintegration Center, and we’ve made some upgrades to that location. AMI Kids is operating that for us,” Casados said.

The facility has four bedrooms with three beds to a room, a classroom, and an outdoor recreation area. Staff includes a chef, a nurse, and therapists onsite. Casados says they have partnerships with a charter school and a local community college to do online school and have a tutor onsite. They also have a partnership with Workforce Solutions.

“It’s really about normalcy for those kids and providing them the environment that will prepare them for you know, life. Some of these are older youth. They’re 15, 16, 17 years old,” Casados said.

“We’re still continuing to look for placement, but if they end up going into Fostering Connections or transitional living for youth, we want to make sure they’re prepared and have the skills to be successful,” Casados said.

So far, five kids are living there. The facility has the capacity for 12, and Casados hopes to have the rest of the boys living in the offices transition to the center by month’s end.

However, some advocates aren’t thrilled with the venture, saying the state has other obligations it still needs to meet. Jesse Clifton, an attorney with Disability Rights New Mexico, says CYFD has already settled a lawsuit in 2020 that highlighted the overuse of congregate care.

“The allegations of that lawsuit in general terms alleged that children who have been subject to abuse and neglect and had been brought into the custody of the state of New Mexico were further subjected to more abuse and neglect as opposed to updating the resources and supports they needed to thrive,” Clifton said.

“The lawsuit aimed at total system reform, and the lawsuit was brought in 2018 and it settled in 2020 with the state agreeing that the child welfare system in New Mexico was in need of pretty total reform,” Clifton said, “Those have overwhelmingly been disappointing progress reports as there’s much of the settlement that has yet to be satisfied and many of the deadlines have passed.”

He says prior to the lawsuit, children were inappropriately housed in group care: “Everyone has always agreed, I mean from the time of the settlement agreement to the corrective action plan which was as recent as last year—children belong in family homes. That’s the goal.”

Clifton says the new center doesn’t align with that goal. “That term multi-service home, multipurpose home, is a little bit of a misnomer because for all of its amenities is not a family home. It’s still congregate care and so we just have to keep those realities in mind,” Clifton said, “While this is movement of some kind, it’s not the movement that was agreed to and it’s not again the solution. This is more of a band-aid than a solution.”

Casados says the goal here is ending the office stays: “I think this is the better of those two situations, but our goal really is to make sure we can get those kids into permanent placement in a family-like setting…You know locations like this, you know multiservice homes are not ideal and there will be some people that don’t think this is the best course of action for us to take. We just want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the kids.”

CYFD is also working to create a similar home for girls in Albuquerque who are currently staying in their offices.

CYFD emphasizes: they are looking for people to become foster parents to help with this issue. “Any help that we can get in encouraging individuals across the state to become foster families or even to give it a try if they want to be a respite family and try that slowly, we’d love to have a conversation with them about that,” Casados said.

For more information on becoming a foster parent, head to CYFD’s website here.



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