The legislature focuses on protecting children in New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM (KRQE) – With the legislative session now in full swing, lawmakers are pushing to make changes to better protect children in the state. There are a handful of bills aimed at changing the policy of the state’s Department of Children, Youth and Family (CYFD).

As the 60-day session begins, lawmakers will focus on protecting children in New Mexico.

“I think one thing that all of New Mexico can see is very clearly that CYFD is failing as an agency,” Senator Crystal Diamond said.

CYFD has long been heavily criticized for a lack of transparency and policies aimed at keeping families together, which critics say has put children back in dangerous situations.

“There is a great effort to make CYFD more accountable,” Sen. Diamond said.

In 2021, the agency was criticized for using an encrypted messaging app, which critics claimed may have violated the state’s Public Records Act. Last December, a court case accused CYFD of endangering four-year-old James Dunklee, which ultimately resulted in his death. The lawsuit also accused the agency of destroying evidence and covering up how Dunklee’s case was handled.

“Right now we are seeing some horrific cases of child abuse, which is a broken system. So how are lawmakers going about it and going against the system,” Senator Diamond said.

Several bills to reform the CYFD were introduced at this session.

“I think there’s a grand coalition of us across the aisle that’s coming together to figure out what the solutions are,” Sen. Diamond said.

House Bill 129 would change how CYFD cares for children admitted for concerns related to child abuse or neglect. If a child is released into a home from which they were removed, the department would have to monitor the home for at least three months after the child’s release.

Senator Diamond believes the agency’s policy of keeping families together puts children directly at risk in some cases.

“We’re looking at this whole idea a little bit more closely that New Mexico is reuniting kids with their birth parents at almost any cost,” Sen. Diamond said.

Senator Diamond also sponsors Senate Bill 107, which aims to change the waiting time between custody hearings after an allegation of abuse or neglect, reducing that time from 10 days to 72 hours.

“This is a serious matter that needs to be addressed very quickly, but the reality is that not only is it a failure by this administration, but that CYFD has had to take a much closer look for years,” Sen. Diamond said.

Senator Diamond said there are at least three other bills on the table that revolve around child safety.

“The reform of the CYFD and the protection of children is really an impartial issue up here,” Sen. Diamond said.

KRQE has reached out to CYFD for comment on the proposed legislation and is still awaiting feedback.