New Mexico agencies, which claim foster care improving

September 25, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Officials at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and the state’s Human Services Department are disputing a critical federal class-action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Saturday by 13 children in state foster care, and nonprofits Disability Rights New Mexico and the Native American Disability Law Center, says that the Children, Youth and Families Department has failed to recruit, license and train an adequate number of people needed to ensure safe, supportive homes for foster youth.

The departments, in a joint emailed statement Monday, said they have made major “progress in improving the foster care system and are constantly working to improve services for the children and families of New Mexico.”

The lawsuit says children are being repeatedly uprooted and cycled in and out of short-term emergency placements. It says the state lacks a functioning system to meet the children’s medical and mental health needs while they are in custody, leading to a worsening of their physical and mental health and behavior, making it harder to find appropriate places to for them to live.

The departments said the lawsuit is “out of step with reality.”

The complaint gives examples of the hardships suffered by the 13 children — ranging in age from one to 17 years — who are referred to by first name and last initial, in the complaint.

In their joint statement, the state agencies pointed to increases in the number of foster parents statewide — up by 330 since 2010 to 1,325 statewide — and 100 field workers added since 2015. The agencies also point to a reduction in turnover — from 33 percent to 25 percent — as evidence that the departments are working to improve the state’s foster care system.

The departments also said they increased the daily rate paid for treatment foster care by 20 percent in July “to incentivize more high quality treatment foster care homes,” and are “piloting a high intensity wraparound program” for children with “serious emotional disturbance” and other risk factors.

The advocacy groups aren’t seeking money. They are asking the court to order the state to implement a “trauma-informed care system for New Mexico’s trauma-impacted foster care children.”

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