Child Abuse, Neglect strain New Mexico
SANTA FE, NM – New Mexico’s child protection system is straining to keep pace with an increase in abuse and neglect cases, despite increased public spending, according to a report from state analysts released Tuesday.
The report from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Committee shows the protective services program for children in state custody has failed to meet seven out of eight performance goals. For the fiscal year ending in June, the program missed benchmarks for reunifying children with parents in under a year, the number of children returning to foster care and the speed of adoptions.
The number of children placed in protective care in New Mexico increased by 6 percent to 2,674 during the one-year period ending in June. The state spends 21 percent more on protective programs for children than it did four years ago.
Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson said her agency has been encouraging the public to report child abuse — possibly pushing up case numbers in the process.
“We’re asking people to make child abuse their business,” she said, noting other factors in New Mexico including an opioid addiction epidemic have influence caseloads.
Jacobson acknowledged improvements in the state’s child welfare system are needed, while highlighted progress toward a more stable workforce and an increase in the number of field workers who visit homes to detect maltreatment and determine whether a child may be in danger.
The job turnover rate dropped to 25 percent this year for child protective services workers, down from 34 percent in 2014, Jacobson said.
She cautioned that efforts to reunify mistreated children with parents cannot be rushed or incentivized, and that her agency is working with the court system to streamline adoption procedures. Jacobson noted year-over-year statistical progress in six out of eight evaluation categories for child protective services.
The analysis from the Legislature notes that the state could save tens of millions of dollars in the short run with just a 10 percent reduction in child maltreatment and foster placements.
Generally high evaluation marks were given to the performance of early childhood services including programs that promote high-quality child care.