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IN SESSION: CYFD secretary grilled by Senate committee

Addresses staffing shortages, LFC report and reverted funds

January 31, 2014, 5:30 pm
By Matthew Reichbach
The Senate Public Affairs Committee was the latest to take up the problems within the Children, Youth and Families Department.

CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines mentioned that this is not the first time in this young session that she has been questioned by a committee; just recently she was in the Senate Finance Committee.

"I'm not taking any of this personally," Deines said. "I understand it's the desire to try to help."

CYFD has been under fire since the death of a 9-year old boy in Albuquerque, Omaree Varela. Deines said that she could not speak to the specific case that was under review.

Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, asked about a 911 call reported by media that had no follow-up from CYFD's Child Protective Services.

Deines said she was unsure about exactly which call Keller was referring to.

"We have reviewed all of our systems," Deines said. "We never received a cross reference on that report."

In addition to the Varela case, and perhaps related, was the shortage in staffing by CYFD.

Staffing shortages

"There are a number of reasons," Deines said. "It's not because we're not trying. In a one year period we hired 314 positions. But we lost them."

Deines said it isn't something isolated to New Mexico -- but is a problem with many rural states.

She said that social workers "never get a break."

"It's a life and death situation. That's a wear," Deines said. "I really don't think that money is the only solution. I'm not sure there's enough money to pay some folks to do it."

Deines says that there is no simple solution.

"I think it's a multi-level issue," Deines said. "I'm not sure that we're just going to address it overnight."

Reverted money

Keller wondered about the $6.6 million from CYFD that was reverted to the general fund when the department was facing staffing shortages.

Deines said this was because the money could only be used for specific purposes -- likely by the Department of Finance Authority or the State Personnel Office.

"I am the member of a larger team," Deines explained.

She said that everything is taken into consideration "not for the individual but for a whole."

"I don't think that cabinet secretary saying they're being pushed around by other departments is very secretarial," Keller said. "And we can help you push back."

Deines said that it is her goal that in the coming year that her department would not revert funds.

Criticism over time on cases

Deines also pushed back at one of the major criticisms of her department in the wake of the Varela tragedy.

"Contrary to some of the information that has been put out lately, there is no child who has been there for 30 days in an abusive household waiting for us," Deines said.

Jared Rounsville called the Legislative Finance Council that said this "a total misrepresentation of the facts of that data."

He said that the LFC was likely looking at "pending investigations."

"What a pending investigation is is that we haven't done the administrative process to close an investigation," Rounsville explained.

 

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