Officials from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department announced goals they want to meet in order to improve the state agency that’s regularly criticized, and asked the public to hold it accountable for meeting future targets.
On Tuesday, CYFD launched a dashboard that displays internal and external work data about how well the agency is doing in various aspects, such as how many children are in state custody.
The dashboard also includes information on the agency’s understaffed workforce and the number of licensed foster homes it supports.
CYFD is repeatedly criticized for poor operation standards and a lack of oversight.
Teresa Casados, acting secretary for CYFD, said at a virtual news conference on Tuesday that this new data dashboard is an effort for transparency. She called on the public to “see the changes actually happening” at the department.
“Watch and see, and hold us accountable,” she said. “And we are up for that challenge.”
Some of these changes Casados mentioned stem from recommendations on how to improve CYFD that the agency’s steering committee published in December 2022. Casados said there are a lot of great ideas to implement, including some that are happening now.
She said the dashboard itself is something the agency wanted to put up as soon as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order in February. Casados added that it just took a few months to get it up and running.
The department will update the information monthly. Casados said there could be delays. The website is also in its initial stages, she said, and could change over time so CYFD can remain transparent to the law and people it is responsible to serve.
“We have to make sure that we’re following and protecting the individuals’ information,” Casados said.
There are a few concrete points of operation that CYFD wants to make better.
For one, Casados said the department aims to have 190 non-relative foster homes by the end of the year. There are only 17 currently in New Mexico.
“If they’re willing to take the risk on us and come on board with us and be a foster parent, we want to make sure that we’re good partners and we’re providing them what they need,” she said.
Casados said one of the past issues with fostering at CYFD was the reimbursement system that foster families and providers said needed improvement. In response to people saying it was too complicated and slow, she said, CYFD paid out more than $2,000 from over 900 reimbursement requests in April and May that were pending in the state system, and has no more outstanding reimbursements.
“Now as payments are coming in, there’s a process for them to be immediately addressed,” she said.
She continued to say the department is still working to streamline that reimbursement process so it’s easier for officials to do and the former backlog isn’t continued.
Sarah Meadows is CYFD director of performance and accountability. She chipped in on the department’s goals to add that the agency wants to see more families get through the whole licensing process to become foster parents.
“And we want to make sure that if there are any barriers on our end, that we’re addressing those and removing them,” she added.
Many more families apply to become foster families than actually get approved in the end, according to the agency’s data. About 72% of applicants dropped out last year, and just 13% of applicants were approved.
Meadows said it’s not unusual that a majority of people don’t go through the whole process because it’s a big commitment, but the department wants to see more foster families approved nonetheless.
Meadows said CYFD also wants people who aren’t relatives to be able to apply to become foster parents and get licensed to do so within 120 days. The agency has typically met that timeline over the past year, according to the department’s statistics, though it didn’t March-April 2023 and in August 2022.
Meadows said that the agency isn’t meeting federal targets for reuniting children with their families or getting them adopted in a timely manner. The national goal is to get 40% of children in permanent family situations within a year, but CYFD did that for just over 30% of children over the last year, according to the agency’s data.
“We continue to strive and make strategies that may help us improve on that metric,” Meadows said.
CYFD has a vacancy rate of about 25%, according to the department’s data.
Positions need to be filled in protective services, behavioral health services, juvenile justice services and administrative services, according to the dashboard.
Casados said there’s a big focus on filling key deputy positions in the department. She said the cabinet secretary position also still needs to be filled since Secretary Barbara Vigil left in April.
But she said there’s been little interest from the public in that position.
Responding to a question about how to hire and keep employees, Casados said a lot of the agency’s employees have said they don’t feel supported or feel like they have a stable career path ahead of them.
She said the agency wants to focus now on providing more resources and support for the CYFD workforce.
She said CYFD is also trying to create entry-level positions so people without experience or education can still get started at the agency and build up from there. “I think there’s a population out there that we’re missing,” Casados said.
“If we can build that culture within the department and make sure that our employees feel supported, I think that always leads to a better workforce.”
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