Two years after New Mexico agreed to overhaul its foster care system in response to a lawsuit claiming it systematically re-traumatizes children in its care, the state lags on its commitments and is struggling to enact the required reforms. The settlement of the Kevin S. complaint, named for one of the plaintiffs, was lauded as groundbreaking when it was announced in March 2020 for its promise to create a “trauma-responsive” system of care that prioritized placing children in secure family settings. But child welfare advocates say the state’s delays in implementing many of the settlement requirements puts thousands of children in state custody at risk of further harm.
New Mexico’s child protective services department is set to receive a funding boost officials say will be used to improve services for foster youth, including creating more specialized placements for some of the state’s most vulnerable kids. During the 2022 New Mexico Legislature, state lawmakers approved a 9.4% funding increase for the Children, Youth and Families Department. CYFD, which asked for nearly $255 million for its general fund ahead of the legislative session, will receive approximately $230 million for its 2023 general fund operating budget.
New Mexico’s Native family court was inaugurated in January, 2020, with the intention of helping prevent the separation of Indigenous children from their families and tribes. The court, based in Albuquerque, is dedicated to hearing child welfare cases that fall under the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.
Child welfare professionals in New Mexico are applauding passage of a bill they say will improve legal representation for youth and families impacted by foster care. Advocates say that the creation of an independent Office of Family Representation and Advocacy will help families connect to higher quality — and better paid — legal aid.
The New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD), which oversees child protective services, asked the state Legislature for a $41.5 million increase to its budget for 2023. CYFD requested $254,948,200 for its general fund, which makes up about 70 percent of its overall budget. It was given $213,423,200 for 2022.
Youth who age out of the foster care system face myriad challenges associated with family instability and poverty. They often lack basic life skills or the support network needed to transition to adulthood.
When former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil retired from the bench in June, she didn’t know what was next, but one thing was certain: She wanted to pivot from presiding over cases of vulnerable communities to actively advocating for them.
A first round of pandemic aid payments to young adults transitioning out of foster care is expected to go out this month after New Mexico received $1.8 million from the federal government for the program. Information on the second round of applications—open to New Mexicans aged 21 to 26 who were involved in the state foster care system—will be available on the CYFD.org homepage in early August, according to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.