New Mexico head of child services steps down following controversies

By Steve Jansen
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Brian Blalock, the embattled cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department, stepped down as the leader of the state’s child protective services agency on Tuesday.

Barbara J. Vigil, a former longtime New Mexico State Supreme Court Justice, will replace Blalock, who took over CYFD in February 2019.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who appointed Blalock shortly after assuming office in 2019, announced the personnel change during a Tuesday news conference in Santa Fe. Blalock didn’t attend the press conference because he’s on vacation, said Lujan Grisham.

The governor said that Blalock is leaving CYFD due to an unnamed job opportunity for his wife in California. Blalock worked as a San Francisco Bay Area attorney prior to directing CYFD.

Lujan Grisham cited “administrative missteps” when announcing the leadership change.

Blalock has been under fire for the state agency’s use of the encrypted Signal messaging app, which automatically deletes interpersonal conversations after 24 hours. Critics were up in the arms about the agency’s practice, charging that the state’s child services department deleted life-saving information for vulnerable youth and families. Searchlight New Mexico first reported the Signal controversy.

In addition, Blalock and the department are named as defendants in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two former CYFD employees who claim they were retaliated against for raising ethical concerns. CYFD has denied wrongdoing.

Blalock didn’t respond to multiple text messages to his personal cell phone.

Blalock’s resignation isn’t the only change in state leadership over agencies charged with child welfare. On July 29, the governor’s office named Kurt Steinhaus as New Mexico Public Education Department cabinet secretary. He replaces Ryan Stewart, who  cited personal reasons for his departure.

Vigil, 62, will be coming out of retirement to head CYFD effective October 1. The senior judge, who presided over the Children’s Court for a decade, left the New Mexico State Supreme Court at the end of June 2021.

Mariana Padilla, director of the state Children’s Cabinet, will serve as interim CYFD secretary after Blalock’s departure, which is scheduled to take place this month.

“I’m honored to have had the chance to serve the families and children of New Mexico,” said Blalock in a prepared statement,

This is one of many stories included in Youth Today’s OST reporting initiative.
This story originally published Aug. 10, 2021, on Youth Today.

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