Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about. The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report ranked New Mexico dead last in the country for overall child well-being in and A link has been sent to your friend's email address.
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If you see comments in violation of our community guidelinesplease report them. She became homeless because none of her New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department foster care placements worked out, she said. While she was in and out of homelessness, Jordan gave birth twice, but the children were later taken away by CYFD, shattering her tenuous existence.
Casey Foundation Kids Count reportwhich measures child well-being indicators such as child poverty rates, reading proficiency, substance abuse and teen birth rates, ranked the state dead last in the country for overall child well-being in and Related: Child welfare services in southern New Mexico face complex challenges.
Despite a troubled track record with child well-being, a change for the better may be emerging. During the New Mexico legislative session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a number of robust child well-being laws that legislators hope will reform foster care. CYFD has also been hampered by a dearth of qualified social workers, a lack of adoptive families and a number of child abuse cases, according to court filings from several cases.
It will also look into the downstream impacts of former Gov. For now, disturbing child abuse cases continue to cast a dark pall over the state. Perhaps the most notorious incident — Victoria Martens, the year-old Albuquerque girl who was raped, burned, dismembered and found dead inside a bathtub in August — recently thrust itself into the news cycle when Fabian Gonzales, one of the original murder suspects, was released from jail on Nov.
More: Protesters in Albuquerque seek 'justice for Victoria'. Before the gruesome crime, CYFD had received at least four calls about the safety of Victoria and her brother but were unable to substantiate the charges.
Michael Padilla, who knows the state foster care system on a personal level — he was in it from 6 months of age to However, we have a long way to go. A long way to go. When Kevin S. Inhe entered the foster care system, where he was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges. He was sent to a Colorado residential treatment center, where he suffered physical and emotional torment by the staff and the other foster care residents, the complaint says.
Inthen-Gov. Martinez claimed that 15 private mental health providers committed fraud and promptly froze their Medicaid funding. More: Legislation calls for study of mental health hospital in southern New Mexico.
Otherwise, it was improving across the country at the same time. Among the pieces of child well-being legislation Grisham signed during the legislative session was the Padilla-sponsored Early Childhood Education and Care Department Act. Additionally, funds from the federal Family First Prevention Services Act, introduced by a number of members of the U.
Congress, including New Mexico Democratic Rep. Deb Haaland, became available Oct.The heat of the day is starting to abate, and the cooling air smells of sage. A group of teenagers huddle together by a tarp shelter. They are members of the latest crop of students at Redcliff Ascent, a wilderness program for troubled youth.
They talk animatedly, exuding a kind of brittle bravado—all except for one of them, a heavy-set, red-faced girl who cries under the tarp with her knees pressed to her chin. Instead, they exchange tales of how they came to be in this camp—leagues away from their familiar world of running water, soft beds and Playstation 4s.
Two adults stand close by with watchful eyes. I ran, so they put cuffs on me and put me in the car. I was crying my eyes out. I almost had a panic attack. There are dozens of institutions similar to Redcliff across America, and they promise therapeutic treatment for teenagers who are engaging in drug use or other behavior frowned upon by their families or schools.
Parents often hire transport agencies, which are charged with delivering the teens to their programs, forcibly or otherwise. This industry, which has only reached mainstream popularity in the last couple of decades, is still controversial.
Its proponents maintain that this type of isolation, away from the temptations and perils of society, can benefit youth who are straying down the path of addiction and dysfunction. They present a multitude of success stories and insist this type of therapy can be life-changing.
Programs differ in intensity and duration, although typically, they involve activities such as hiking and learning wilderness skills.
At Redcliff, staff teaches students how to make fire using only materials gathered from the wild, a seemingly simple task that actually takes weeks to master. Most teens admitted to wilderness programs are there for a few months, although some stay as long as two years. But critics of other wilderness programs point out the lack of regulation for these businesses, citing abuse allegations as well as deaths that have taken place at such programs. No one, not even the U.
Government Accountability Office, which compiled a report in on the dangers of wilderness and other teen facilities, knows the exact number of fatalities at adolescent therapeutic programs, although the highest unconfirmed count is 86 deaths since As recently as six months ago, police began investigating allegations that a counselor at Second Nature Blue Ridge, a wilderness program in Georgia, forced a year-old into a sexual encounter.
That investigation is ongoing. Redcliff itself has been embroiled in several legal battles over alleged abuse. One lawsuit began in April, when a girl and her mother filed complaints against Redcliff, including unlawful search and seizure and involuntary servitude. The case is still pending.
Another court case took place inwhen a student, Jared Oscarson, complained of severe stomach pains.
Attorney explains why foster children are suing NM agencies
The lawsuit alleges that staff ignored him, and he was made to hike five miles in spite of his complaints, until he fell down and had to be taken to the hospital for appendicitis. It did take some time to evaluate the seriousness of his pain.Those are among the allegations in a page proposed class action lawsuit filed Saturday in U.
District Court in Albuquerque against the state Children, Youth and Families Department, which runs foster care, and the state Human Services Department, which oversees Medicaid treatment for children in state custody. The lawsuit, which is filed on behalf of abused or neglected children in state custody, says that 4, children spent time in foster care in New Mexico during the fiscal year. While a handful of tragic cases in which CYFD failed to take abused or neglected children into custody have made headlines in recent years, what happens when vulnerable children are removed from their homes by CYFD is less public, because their case files are confidential by law.
The new lawsuit contends that some abused and neglected children end up with foster families who lack the training, ability and support to care for them. Some children taken into state custody are housed, at least temporarily, at CYFD offices and emergency shelters. Others end up in residential treatment centers — some of them out of state — where they can be subjected to psychotropic drugs and physical restraint.
The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, which has this office in Albuquerque, is being criticized in a newly filed federal lawsuit filed by a group that includes child advocates and their attorneys.
The child plaintiffs, who range from under 2 years old to 17, are identified by pseudonyms only. The second time inhe was 12 years old and spent a week in an emergency youth shelter for residents age 16 to After that, he spent two nights sleeping in a CYFD office, which had neither a formal sleeping place nor a shower. After less than one month, the aunt requested her niece be removed from the home. After Olivia L. Plaintiff Kevin S. As a result, he appeared at a court hearing with bruised eyes and other facial wounds.
Once CYFD sends foster children outside the state to residential treatment centers, there is little to no monitoring of the cases, the lawsuit alleges.
Across his placements, the lawsuit states, the year-old has received only phone counseling with his mother, inadequate counseling or no counseling at all. Inthe state resolved a year-old class action lawsuit against CYFD that was filed over allegations that children were languishing in foster care instead of being adopted. Now New Mexico joins a number of other states, including Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, that have been sued in recent years over alleged state foster care failings, including the lack of proper placements for children.
Michael Hart, a longtime child welfare attorney in Albuquerque. Other states have chosen that path. We believe that approach only wastes time and squanders limited resources when we all know what needs to be done and can start working together now. CYFD officials in recent years have touted improvements, but the lawsuit contends that federal court intervention is needed to overhaul the system before more children are harmed.
Other Offers Already a subscriber? Sign In. A page from the CYFD website. More from ABQJournal. Michael Hart. Support Local Journalism.Help keep local journalism fighting for you.
Donate today to Friends of the Reporter. Scott Chandler, the owner of a controversial youth program that's under investigation, described Bruce Staeger, 18, as a "fellow brother" whose death Sept. But in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Feb. During his stay at the ranch for troubled youth, which is located south of Hillsboro in Sierra County, the teen was "handcuffed and shackled and carried from a pole by his bound hands and feet as one would carry a large dead animal," the suit alleges.
Another time Staeger was forced to eat horse dung, the lawsuit alleges. Similar claims can be found in two other suits — one filed in late December by South Carolina mother Barbara Holler, whose son was at Tierra Blanca with Staeger, and another filed Feb.
Both allege the state's Children, Youth and Families Department CYFD failed to do its job by not requiring Tierra Blanca Ranch to become licensed despite receiving information years ago about alleged abuses.
Licensing would have brought more state oversight, which would have prohibited certain activities at the ranch. While the actions of Chandler and his staff have garnered most of the attention, the civil suits and other developments raise a question: Why didn't CYFD bring Tierra Blanca under direct state oversight years ago? Even before the recent lawsuits, some child advocates argued that CYFD had the authority, and responsibility, to license Tierra Blanca. CYFD also took that position several years ago; however, for reasons that are not clear, it did not follow through with licensure.
The lawsuits are the latest in a string of controversies for CYFD, which has faced criticism because of staff shortages, unspent money, and its handling of several recent cases in which children previously referred to authorities were later allegedly victimized by parents or custodians. Albuquerque resident Omaree Varela, a nine-year-old boy, died after being kicked by his mother in December. In the matter of Tierra Blanca, all three civil suits allege that some children were shackled at their ankles and handcuffed for extended periods of time, beaten by staff and other students, required to perform ranch work without pay, and punished by being deprived of food or made to perform extreme exercises like running up and down slopes or running while carrying truck tires.
Chandler has denied the allegations in the recent Staeger suit and said other allegations of child abuse and neglect, the subject of an ongoing police investigation, have "blown out of proportion" the way his program operates.
To date, no criminal charges have been filed involving alleged abuse at the ranch. Michael Myers, the driver in the Sept. The state now considers Tierra Blanca to be a "wilderness program" and not subject to CYFD licensure, although Chandler agreed last month to give the state limited oversight. Legislation supported by CYFD that would have required licensing of such programs, however, died in the session that ended Feb.
When she sent her son Coulton Quevedo to Tierra Blanca in in a desperate attempt to improve his behavior, Holler said in an interview, she was sold on the program's claims it would instill "responsibility" and "self-respect and respect for others" through "sound Bible principles" and "appropriate discipline" in a wilderness setting, as its website advertised.
Holler said she never imagined the facility could operate without state licensing. State licensing would bar Tierra Blanca from withholding food, requiring forced exercise as punishment, and blocking child contact with parents unless therapeutically justified, said Grace Spulak, staff attorney for Albuquerque-based Pegasus Legal Services for Children, which began raising concerns about Tierra Blanca last year after some complaints came to light.
Licensing also allows CYFD to inspect Tierra Blanca even in the absence of an abuse complaint and subjects the facility to regulations covering everything from employee background checks to transportation, nutrition plans to the use of mobile homes.
The administration of Gov. Susana Martinez maintains that because Tierra Blanca is not licensed, CYFD does not have oversight power or authority to investigate abuse complaints when first reported.
Law enforcement, under state law, investigates abuse or neglect complaints involving facilities like Tierra Blanca, and can request CYFD assistance. On Feb. Under the settlement, Tierra Blanca agreed to stop using "mechanical restraints" and must grant CYFD access to residents and their files without prior notice. The ranch also must immediately file an incident report with a state liaison if there is a client death, an attempted escape, an allegation of client abuse or neglect, or an employee action that leads to serious physical injury or "psychological impairment.
The settlement, however, lets Tierra Blanca avoid most requirements of licensed facilities and, as Chandler said in a prepared statement to NMID, "does not alter our methods. Chandler said caring for high-risk youths "can be accomplished without hundreds of pages of regulations. The settlement demonstrates we can apply a simple, common sense, standard to the pertinent issues and arrive at an understanding.Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about. A link has been sent to your friend's email address.
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Lawsuit: New Mexico is wrongly denying child care benefits
Under the settlement agreement, the agency must hold public hearings before changing income requirements. Census figures. Susana Martinez, a Republican, over the aid program. Their complaint included multiple accusations, including that the agency denied aid to families without providing proper notice or establishing proper policy for lower income requirements. The agency also faced accusations of failing to disclose how copayments were calculated while imposing copayments that exceeded federal guidelines.
CYFD Chief Council Kate Girard praised the agreement, saying it would allow more children and families access to affordable child care. Maria Griego, a supervising attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, expressed disappointment in the proposed income cap, though she agreed that a legislative funding shortfall for the program was the reason. Kids Count report: New Mexico remains 48th in nation in child poverty. New Mexico lawmakers to grapple with child care funding.
Report: New Mexico programs can do more for mothers, kids.Five New Mexico residents are suing the Children, Youth and Families Department CYFDclaiming the state is effectively cheating eligible low-income families out of money to pay for child care. CLP brought the suit on behalf of five residents whose applications for child care assistance were denied. The complaint names Secretary Monique Jacobson, in her official capacity, as defendant. The complaint alleges CYFD is improperly rejecting applications from families whose incomes fall within federal eligibility guidelines and is not giving applicants a chance to appeal when their request for assistance is denied.
It also claims the state is illegally charging copayments to families who do receive assistance. Hager said the state should have made rules for formulating copayments through a regulatory process that was transparent and gave the public a chance to comment.
Multiple attorneys who have reviewed child care assistance copayments charged to New Mexicans have been unable to determine how they were calculated, Hager said. The child care assistance program, funded by a mix of state funds and federal block grants, pays a subsidy to families to cover the cost of child care. Only 30 percent of eligible families are receiving child care assistance through CYFD. Her application for child care assistance was denied because her income was ruled too high.
Torres said she re-applied for assistance two times, and both times was turned away without having her application processed.
Torres was eventually able to pay for child care after she was injured in a car accident and received a cash settlement. HSD has been under a consent decree to bring its practices in line with federal law for three decades, ever since a low-income mother sued the department in for stymieing her access to public assistance.
That agency has been found to be out of compliance with the consent decree multiple times in recent years. Searchlight New Mexico is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to investigative journalism. Read more of our stories on Raising New Mexico at projects.
Help Searchlight New Mexico continue to report the news that matters to you. Donate Now Go. Follow Quick Reads.The lawsuit alleges thousands of children are taken from abusive situations in our state only to be thrown into conditions that are nearly as bad.
The lawsuit states New Mexico lacks a system to ensure stable placement in safe and supportive homes. A year-old cited in the lawsuit has been through at least 11 placements during his two times in state custody and spent two nights sleeping the CYFD office, which has neither a formal sleeping space nor a shower. According to the lawsuit, he received black eyes and other facial wounds, but CYFD kept him there for a year despite multiple reports of the harm he endured. They claim that unaddressed trauma has impacted their ability to eat, sleep, concentrate and communicate, among other things.
Varela said the department has reduced their turnover rate and added nearly more workers in the past three-and-a-half years.
CYFD hit with lawsuit over child care program
All rights reserved. Lawsuit claims broken CYFD system results in abusive conditions for foster children. Form not loading? Click here or email us at webmaster kob. Most Read Stories. Lujan Grisham responds to president's plan to reopen economy. In court, Legacy Church argues mass gatherings should be allowed in places of worship. New Mexico dioceses have different public Mass approaches.
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