By Steve JansenALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The brutal abuse of a New Mexico toddler, allegedly by her parents, has pitted the state’s child protective services against the girl’s former foster mother, who sought help online after the child and her siblings went missing.
The little girl, whose name is being withheld by Youth Today, was abandoned at a North Carolina hospital with a fractured skull in October 2020 — six months after she and her siblings disappeared following a trial home visit with their biological parents.
The foster mother, Jill Jones, said she was trying to raise the alarm when she posted about the missing children on her Facebook page.
Jones alleges the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department knew the children were missing and failed to contact law enforcement or attempt to locate and recover them, despite the parents’ history of abuse.
Before the girl and her siblings were located, CYFD revoked Jones’ foster parent license and sued her, arguing the foster mom of 11 years had violated the agency’s confidentiality policy with her posts.
Jones denies she posted confidential information and has characterized the lawsuit as retaliatory.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she said. “The kids went missing and I’m a mother. What else was I supposed to do?”
CYFD spokesperson Charlie Moore-Pabst declined comment, citing pending litigation.
In January, Jones countersued, claiming a breach of her First Amendment rights and violations under the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act.
According to the Hobbs News-Sun, the little girl Jones had fostered was dropped off at a Charlotte hospital with serious injuries by her mother, who gave a fake name to hospital employees. The mother reportedly fled the hospital as medical personnel prepared the girl for surgery, but left her purse with identification inside.
Both parents were eventually apprehended and charged in New Mexico with four felony counts of third-degree child abuse and one felony count of fourth-degree custodial interference.
The case has become a rallying cry for critics of CYFD who say the agency needs stricter oversight.
Two bills introduced during the 2021 legislative session sought to amend how the agency is held accountable. One died in committee.
The other passed unanimously in the State House and Senate, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vetoed the legislation, citing a failure to consult the state’s Native American leaders about the changes, even though the state must adhere to the Indian Child Welfare Act.
“Additional collaboration is therefore needed between the [New Mexico Substitute Care Advisory] Council, state agencies and our Native American communities before any of the amendments … can be enacted,” the governor wrote at the time.
State Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Chaves, Eddy and Lea), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, blamed CYFD Cabinet Secretary Brian Blalock for failing to reach out to Native American leaders, which led to the veto. Blalock has come under scrutiny for directing employees to use the encrypted chat service Signal, reportedly to skirt open records requests, Searchlight New Mexico has reported.
Kernan expressed disappointment with Grisham as well.
“I felt that at the end of the day the governor never intended to sign the bill,” she said.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, did not respond to a request for comment.
Albuquerque attorney Matthew Beck, who represents Jones, said that the lack of an independent body to scrutinize grievances against CYFD harms foster parents and children.
“It’s CYFD who’s revoking [Jones’ foster parent] license and hearing the administrative appeal, and it’s CYFD … who makes the determination at the end of the day whether to uphold that revocation of the license,” Beck said. “The process appears to lack a check and balance.”
This story originally published June 1, 2021, on Youth Today.