Administration Initiatives and Interagency Collaboration
The Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) has increased its funding for several programs that contribute signiﬁcantly to supporting children and youth in New Mexico, including several housing programs, the Independent Living Services program, Adoption Subsidy Maintenance, Foster Care Maintenance, Guardianship Subsidy Maintenance, and Kinship Guardianship Subsidies.
Supporting Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness
CYFD’s Community Shelter Program provides facility-based shelters to serve any youth or child in New Mexico who needs housing. Priority populations served by the shelters are youth and children involved with CYFD Protective Services or Juvenile Justice. CYFD also provides community-based and multi-service home shelter programming.
BHS collaborates with other divisions to assist youth with their housing efforts. In SFY’23, PS assumed the administration of the Transitions Supportive Housing program that provides supportive housing vouchers to young adults aging out of CYFD care or exiting a JJS secure facility who having difficulty obtaining safe and stable housing due to their behavioral health needs. Young adults are eligible if they are 18 to 21 and have a behavioral health diagnosis. This program connects youth with supportive services when needed. It uses a Housing First approach, focusing on tenancy and allowing youth to make their own choices regarding the supports they need.
BHS continues its efforts to expand New and Innovative programming for adolescents and young adults. The Young Parent home program has been limited to a single facility in Hobbs and BHS released an RFA for a 2nd 6-bed facility. The intent is to provide trauma informed housing and clinical supportive services centered around the mother-child dyad. Unfortunately, the Young Parent Home program in Hobbs elected to close and there were no responses received to the SFY’22 RFA. BHS plans to release a new RFA for a Young Parent Program in SFY’24.
In addition to the Young Parent Home, BHS released an RFA for the Safe House in Bernalillo County for young people ages 14 to 18. This program will provide services for some of the most vulnerable sub-populations of youth, Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) survivors. A recipient of funding has been formally selected and BHS anticipates the Safe House in Bernalillo County will be operational in 2024.
To provide additional support to young adults aging out of the New Mexico foster care system, on July 1, 2020, CYFD launched the Fostering Connections extended foster care program. This program seeks to address the challenges (e.g., substance abuse, trauma, homelessness, and other behavioral or mental health struggles) that disproportionately impact youth aging out of foster care. The program empowers youth ages 18 to 21 to build relationships and support systems; connect to services such as housing, medical, and behavioral health; and access resources related to life skills—education, employment, transportation, parenthood, and more—essential for a successful transition into adulthood.
CYFD’s Youth Motivating Others through Voices of Experience New Mexico (Youth MOVE NM) chapter is a youth leadership and advocacy group of Youth MOVE National, consisting of youth who have successfully navigated the child welfare system. Youth MOVE NM members have been CYFD’s partners in advocacy, including during the successful 2020 Behavioral Health Week at the Legislature, for which they helped plan and execute the ﬁrst ever Youth MOVE NM Day.
Specific Protections for Children and Youth Identifying as LGBTQ+
CYFD has also engaged in various initiatives to support and elevate LGBTQ issues. In June 2020, CYFD announced a new non-discrimination directive, one of the most inclusive in the country. This directive stipulates that CYFD will not discriminate against any child or youth involved with any aspect of its system on the basis of: race; creed; religion; sex or gender; gender identity; gender expression; sexual orientation; marital status or partnership; familial or parental status; pregnancy and breastfeeding or nursing; disability; school districts and charter schools; HIV/AIDS status; survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking; and housing status, including homelessness; or any other non-merit factor. The directives apply across all CYFD divisions and bureaus, as well as to contracted services and programs. The directive was signiﬁcantly informed by input from youth and community stakeholders, including Lambda Legal, NMCAN, True Colors United, Family Equality, and Equality New Mexico. CYFD also worked with these groups to draft changes to language in the New Mexico Administrative Code to make it more inclusive. Some of those changes have already been promulgated while others are pending.
Serving Immigrant Children and Families
In FY20, CYFD established an Immigration Unit within the Department that is providing support to children, parents, and relatives with immigration issues. The Immigration Unit also assists with locating, assessing, and placing children with relatives in other countries. With this unit’s work, CYFD has been able to partner with legal services organizations who help eligible children in CYFD custody to screen and apply for legal relief, and to connect children to their parents who have been detained or deported by immigration authorities. In FY23, all youth in foster care or who aged out of foster care between the ages of 14 and 26 are eligible for benefits and services provided by CYFD and Fostering Connections regardless of immigration status.
In FY20, CYFD changed foster care licensing policies to allow licensing of and subsidies to immigrant relative caregivers. Immigrant relatives now receive the same supports to care for their relative children as other caregivers.
Dedicated Supports for Tribes
CYFD also launched an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Unit in FY20, born from strengthened partnerships between CYFD, the NM Tribal Indian Children Welfare Consortium, the NM Partners and the Tribal-State Judicial Consortium. The unit is staffed with a supervisor, attorney, and four ICWA Specialists who work to ensure that protective services cases have tribal involvement, children are in preferred placement, and culturally appropriate services are identiﬁed and implemented throughout the duration of the case.
Bernalillo County is piloting the very ﬁrst ICWA Court in NM, which began taking cases January 1, 2020. The court has a specialized focus on compliance with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (enacted in 1978 by Congress) and involves Tribes throughout the legal process of the case. The presiding judge, Special Master Catherine Begaye, is the ﬁrst Native American to preside over an ICWA Court. The CYFD Juvenile Justice Division and Tribal partners recently implemented the Tribal Notiﬁcation law, which requires earlier notiﬁcation and continuous collaboration with Tribes on juvenile justice cases.
Increasing kinship care and guardianships are top priorities for CYFD. When families cannot be kept intact, placing a child with a relative can minimize the trauma of removal and research confirms children in kinship homes fare better than those placed with strangers. They experience fewer placement changes and have better behavioral and mental health outcomes. Kin caregivers are more likely to provide a permanent home through guardianship, custody, or adoption and can also help preserve a child’s cultural identity and relationship to their community.
During 2020 and 2021, CYFD rolled out a new guardianship assistance program to provide permanence for children placed with relatives and a formalized kinship care plan, resulting in an over 20 percent increase in relative placements. CYFD aims to double this number over the next three years by removing barriers to kinship placements, including streamlining foster care licensing requirements to allow the provision of services and economic support to relative placements. The target is for at least 48 percent of children and youth in Protective Services (PS) custody to be placed in a family setting and live-in licensed homes with their relatives or kin. CYFD is working diligently to assist relatives and fictive kin in getting licensed at initial placement and throughout the life of the case. To continue growing kinship care CYFD has or will take the following specific steps:
- Provide ongoing training to frontline staff on importance of relative connections. New employee training and ongoing drop-in trainings and coaching for staff have been developed, delivered, and will continue into future.
- A Kinship Unit has been created to support system- and non-system involved families and field staff.
- Staff will be using Results-Oriented Management interface and FACTS data to track kinship placements on a statewide, regional, county, and unit level.
- Use Family Finding searches for all children in care for kinship placement or connections or both. A contract was executed with Seneca Family Finding in 2019 and will continue to be renewed annually.
- The “Kincare Firstcare,” procedure strongly encourages relative placement as the first placement and, if not possible, requires ongoing staffings at regular intervals (Target: June 2021). Program instruction guidelines will be released that require county office manager approval if a youth is not placed with kin.
- Work with tribal communities and rural areas to develop tools for kinship care.
- Develop media campaign to align with retention efforts, promote recruitment of culturally reflective families and kinship care, and ensure the community is aware of the prioritization of relative connections. (Target July 1, 2022)
- Engage a treatment foster care (TFC) agency to pilot “Kincare TFC Licensing” and placements so that relatives can be licensed and receive TFC level supports.
- Provide additional supports for kinship caregivers, including contracts with community-based providers and community-based support services. A contract for legal services for kinship families was executed in July 1, 2020, with Southwest Family Guidance Center, Pegasus, DNA, and Legal Aid of New Mexico. These contracts have proven successful and continue to be renewed annually.
- Provide capacity to remotely verify background and safety checks to facilitate initial placement with relatives. (Target: December 30, 2021). New procedures are under development in collaboration with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Federal Bureau of Investigations that will expand the ability of after-hours and immediate background checks for staff to help ensure safety without the need for law enforcement to be on site and to provide additional information to support safety decisions regarding placement of the child with relatives. Currently, law enforcement agencies must be involved at the initial removal of a child to run background check. (Target: TBD).
- All investigations are required the completion of a genogram, a map of family relationships and history, and for the genogram to be uploaded in the case record.
Meanwhile, the Aging and Long-Term Services Department (ALTSD) works to support grandparents throughout New Mexico in a variety of capacities. Grandparents are served via the Aging Network through senior centers and through the agency directly with the Legal Resources for the Elderly Program (LREP) and Pegasus Legal Services for Children to provide kinship guardianship representation and other legal services for grandparents raising grandchildren.
A Senate Joint Memorial was passed in 2005, which created a multi-agency task force who was responsible for developing a State of New Mexico Interdepartmental Plan, including assessing the needs of grandchildren and grandparents residing together in grandparent-headed households. In 2006, due to a recommendation by the task force, funding was appropriated to the ALTSD to fund legal services for kinship caregivers to establish legal relationship with children who would otherwise enter the foster care system. Pegasus Legal Services for Children has contracted with the NM ALTSD since 2006, to provide kinship guardianship services statewide. Contracted services include: telephonic legal assistance to kinship caregivers, including the provision of information, advice, referral and brief services; direct legal representation on a pro-bono basis, in-house or subcontracted basis, and community outreach/education provided to kinship caregivers, social workers or other service providers, attorneys, and court staff. There have been various social trends that have affected kinship guardianship services; a couple of examples being the Opioid Crisis, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. These have resulted in many parents who have either become incapacitated or have passed away, resulting in children being left behind with only grandparents or extended family members (uncles/aunts) to take care of them.
In the current contract for FY23 ending June 30, 2023, with Pegasus Legal Services for Children – under the service component for Legal Assistance: Guardianship Legal Helpline, there were 1,416 intakes performed, of these approximately 511 individuals qualified for services, 905 individuals were not served; there were 1,083 hours of services provided. Under the service component for Legal Representation: Pegasus Legal Services for Children, there were 251 New Clients whose Guardianship Petition was granted (34 out of 35) for 98% petitions granted and 5,883.55 actual hours spent on legal representation. Under the service component of Community Outreach & Education, outreach was conducted reaching 588 individuals with 68 actual hours of service being provided.
There has been need to intermittently increase the funding amounts for services provided by Pegasus Legal Services for Children during recent fiscal years to assist with changing social trends effecting kinship guardianship. A budget increase has not occurred since the program inception in 2006. As we can see by the hours of billed services (per contract) versus the actual hours provided, there is a large gap that needs to be closed. Example: Legal Assistance: 843 contract hours billed – 1,083 actually provided; Legal Representation: 3,011 contract hours billed – 5,883 actually provided; Community Outreach & Education: 60 contract hours billed- 68 hours actually provided. Total billed contract hours: 3,914 – 7,035 actually provided. Pegasus Legal Services for Children has not seen an increase in their hourly rate for legal representation since beginning contractual services in 2006.
ALTSD also contracts with the Legal Resources for the Elderly Program through the New Mexico State Bar to ensure that services are provided directly to grandparents who are caring for grandchildren and to preserve their ability to make decisions on behalf of the grandchild. LREP, CYFD and ALTSD work closely to ensure appropriate referral in order to ensure grandparents’ needs are met.
The Aging Network also works with many grandparents raising their grandchildren across the state, providing support in many different capacities including meals, respite vouchers, counseling, trainings, and other supportive services. In FY23, 3,059 respite vouchers were issued to 52 grandparents raising grandchildren in Dona Ana, Rio Arriba, Sana Fe, and Taos counties. Respite care services are extremely important for grandparents as they can provide a much-needed break from caregiving responsibilities. Respite vouchers have a positive impact on grandparents in that respite reduces their stress and helps them feel better rested and rejuvenated. Often, feelings of guilt or anxiety about leaving grandchildren may deter individuals from seeking respite care. Grandparents and relative caregivers are encouraged to use respite on a regular basis to avoid feelings of guilt, exhaustion, isolation, and burnout.
Services for Families Involved with the Justice System
The New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) supports children and families in various ways through multiple programs through the Adult Prison Division, the Reentry Division, and the Probation and Parole Division. Institutional programs aim to provide individuals with therapeutic interventions, parenting tools, life skills, and enhanced communication skills. These programs are designed to facilitate positive role modeling and include opportunities for family reunification efforts. NMCD also supports children and families through visitation and family days which help maintain relationships and continued contact with loved ones. Examples of some of the program opportunities for inmates include Malachi Dads, Moral Reconation Therapy Parenting, Charting a New Course, Inside Out Dads, Women in Leadership PB&J, Mom’s from the Inside, Wings for Life and Mommy and Me self-help groups. NMCD also provides countless other programs such as the PAWS program and gardening clubs which contribute to clients learning socialization, coping, and problem-solving skills. NMCD’s High School Equivalency graduations has more than doubled within the last year and the New Mexico Corrections Department achieved the highest number of graduations of any institute of adult education in the State. These learned skills assist individuals in becoming more engaged citizens, community members, family members and parents.
NMCD supports individuals and their families upon transition into the community by offering supportive services, housing and treatment opportunities. Referrals and assistance with therapeutic services including parenting and counseling for families, couples and individuals in the community are offered. NMCD also provides housing for mothers with minor children in therapeutic residential programs. Families are offered resources including food, clothing, hygiene, rental assistance, utility assistance and transportation support, to ensure that clients remain in their homes and families remain stable.
NMCD supports the overall well-being of children and families in New Mexico by regularly participating in community outreach through collections of food, clothing, school supplies, toys, and gift cards throughout the year. These items are donated to organizations statewide that assist families in need through schools, homeless shelters, food banks, and counseling agencies. NMCD also participates in gift card drives which help provide shoes, transportation, utilities, clothing, and more. These are collaborative efforts with many nonprofit organizations and social service agencies. Partnerships with other state agencies such as the Department of Workforce Solutions; Children, Youth and Families Department; and the Department of Health ensure parents get the assistance they need to ensure the safety of families and allow NMCD clients to be active participants in their families.