The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) recently announced two directives to better support all New Mexico children.
First, CYFD updated its non-discriminatory policy to include LGBTQIA+ individuals, and second, the institution extended its age of services from age 18 to 21.
According to its website, CYFD “provides an array of prevention, intervention, rehabilitative and after-care services to New Mexico children and their families.” This mission is accomplished by enrolling children and/or their families in different categories of services, like behavioral health or early childhood care, on the basis of an initial screening to determine potential abuse, neglect or other similar instances of trauma.
Charlie Moore-Pabst, CYFD’s acting public information officer, said the mission of CYFD is to render New Mexico the “best place to be a child.” Moore-Pabst said CYFD is particularly integral to New Mexico families due to the state having among the highest levels of poverty in the country and thus requiring the most critical level of intervention to support those in need.
“Our role in New Mexico is especially critical because we do have such a profound gap in poverty, and a lot of the state’s issues are rooted in this poverty,” Pabst-Moore said. “We have to deliver non-traditional services and rethink how we deliver them.”
New Mexico was one of the last states in the nation to implement extended foster care, but Pabst-Moore said this shortcoming came with an unexpected benefit: CYFD is able to model its approach to extended care after the successes and mistakes of surrounding states.
For example, several states require a lengthy court process if a young adult wishes to return to the foster system, but CYFD has decided against this procedure.
“Any eligible young adult from the age of 18 to 21 can leave and re-enter these services on a voluntary basis however much they want,” Pabst-Moore said.
The decision to carry out extended services was prompted by the knowledge that aging out of the foster system can be particularly difficult for young adults within the age range of 18 to 21. According to Pabst-Moore, 18 to 21-year-olds that have aged out of foster care statistically run a high risk of residing in homeless shelters or on the streets.
“We know nationwide that 40% of kids who age out of foster care will be homeless at one point of their life,” he said.
Extended services will include guaranteed housing, connection to community-based behavioral health supports, job assistance, food access and monetary aid for college tuition.
The directive will be federally funded and will not affect the state’s budget.
Shortly before releasing the directive to extend foster care, CYFD updated its non-discrimination policy to the most inclusive the department has ever followed.
The policy intends to support LGBTQIA+ youth by declaring that CYFD will not discriminate against any individual based on a multitude of factors.
While the directive was not in response to a specific discrimination instance, Pabst-Moore said the initiative is timely due to the pushback towards the LGBTQIA+ community on a national scale.
“We definitely anecdotally know that there are families out there who find out that their child is of a certain gender identity and put them out on the streets,” he said. “We want to reassure everyone that any child deserves equal treatment.”
Pabst-Moore said that CYFD currently does not have data on the number of LGBTQIA+ youth currently involved in Protective Services but said that “since (the directive) encompasses anyone who could become involved with CYFD, it’s a much broader net than just strengthening protections for children already in care.”
In addition to updating its policy, CYFD is mandating training on non-discrimination, professionalism and boundaries for its new and current employees. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the training will most likely be virtual but is still being developed.
Pabst-Moore indicated that the connecting theme between both directives is the all-embracing openness CYFD maintains towards any child or young adult.
“We welcome everybody with open arms, and we make it a point to meet families and children where they’re at,” he said. “We’re working to transform our child welfare system into a system that can respond to all New Mexican children and young adults in the most supportive and least restrictive settings.”
Beatrice Nisoli is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli