Morning Word

CYFD Report: “Deteriorating conditions and crisis situations”

Virgin Galactic completes first flight of 2024

CYFD Report: “Deteriorating conditions and crisis situations”

Two experts, whose oversight of the state’s Children, Youth & Families Department is part of a 2020 settlement, say CYFD does not show evidence of improvement since their last visit four months ago. Rather, “co-neutrals” Judith Meltzer and Kevin Ryan write in a Jan. 26 letter to Acting CYFD Secretary Teresa Casados and Human Services Secretary Kari Armijo, “we heard about deteriorating conditions and crisis situations in most of the offices we visited. In our assessment, the issues we identified in our September 2023 letter remain and, for the most part, there has been little to no progress in addressing them.” While Meltzer and Ryan intend to send a follow-up letter next month regarding the state’s status on its Corrective Action Plan, “we do not want to wait until then to communicate to you our understanding that there currently exist serious risks to child and staff safety,” the letter notes. Among the issues noted in the seven-page letter: a backlog of more than 2,000 investigations, in which “staff in one office reported there are numerous investigations where children have never been seen by CYFD even after the agency determined that a report of alleged abuse or neglect warranted investigation.” The situation, the letter notes in bold, “is a clear and urgent safety risk for children.” Staffing and training shortages, along with poor employee morale, also are noted, including staff who are supervising children sleeping overnight in their offices. “Across the board, CYFD staff feel stressed by unreasonable expectations, frustrated by the lack of services and resources, angry at unreasonably high caseloads, often fearful about children’s office stays and the safety of children they are unable to visit or see due to their caseloads, and unsupported by leadership,” the report reads.

The report comes amid ongoing debates in the Legislature about the agency’s future, and a proposal to create an independent agency and director to oversee CYFD. The governor last February issued an executive order to overhaul the agency, which has been chronically plagued with reports of repeat abuse of children in its care, and one of the worst rates in the US for such repeat child abuse cases. The Albuquerque Journal last week reported the agency recently settled for nearly $5 million a wrongful death suit involving the beating death of a 4-year-old whose welfare had been reported to the agency on repeated occasions. The Santa Fe New Mexican also reports State Auditor Joseph Maestas recently issued a letter of formal concern regarding CYFD’s last audit, which includes repeated procurement code violations, and failure to notify Maestas’ office of instances of potential vendor fraud.

Paid Leave Act passes Senate committee

The Senate Tax, Business & Transportation Committee on Saturday approved 6-2 Senate Bill 3, the Paid Family & Medical Leave Act, providing the bill its first committee OK. The House version passed its first committee last week, while a more limited version of family leave was tabled indefinitely, the Albuquerque Journal reports. The committee passage of SB3, co-sponsor state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, says in a statement, “marks a significant milestone in our journey towards a more compassionate and inclusive New Mexico.” The bill, supported by a consortium of organizations through the New Mexico PFML Coalition, would create through a shared-cost model a program providing 12 weeks of paid leave for eligible employees for personal or family medical situations. “Supporting paid family leave is an acknowledgment of the interconnectedness and interdependence within our communities,” Rev. Erika Ferguson, director of Narrative Change, NM Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice says in a statement. “It reflects a collective responsibility to uphold the dignity and well-being of all members of society.”

SFPS extends superintendent’s contract

At a special meeting on Saturday, the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education extended Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez’s contract through February 2027, along with a $10,000 bump from his previous $200,000 salary. “The Board of Education’s trust in the superintendent is evident in our decision to extend his contract by the maximum allowable extension of three years,” Board President Sascha Anderson told SFR following the vote. “We look forward to continued innovative leadership and a district that values teaching and learning at its core.” Chavez was first selected as superintendent in April 2021, shortly after former Superintendent Veronica García announced she would retire after five years in the position. The board on Saturday spent four hours in executive session evaluating Chavez’s performance thus far. National Education Association’s Santa Fe chapter President Grace Mayer tells SFR she feels positively about the contract renewal, noting that Chavez has been accessible to the union’s members “in all different contexts of our interactions with him” and continuously ensures the district follows the contracts. “I think he’s been a great asset to the community, and he wants a career here, as opposed to a stepping stone to another position or another job,” Mayer says. “I just think that consistency is what we need to make real progress, not only maintaining a workforce that’s trained and adequate, but also for academic achievement for students.”

Out of this world

Virgin Galactic on Friday reported its first successful spaceflight of 2024—and 11th so far—but also the penultimate journey for VSS Unity following a November announcement during which the company said it was pausing flights to focus on its next class of spaceships and laying off 18% of its workforce to save money. Friday’s flight, the company said in a news release, was the first flight in which private astronauts occupied all four seats on the VSS Unity. “Today the incredible team at Virgin Galactic supported another successful mission and delivered an unforgettable experience for four new astronauts,” CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “The success of ‘Galactic 06′ and the company’s other commercial spaceflights in recent months only increases our confidence in the repeatability of our product and our ability to deliver a superlative experience to our customers. With the production of our next-generation Delta-class ships underway, we look forward to expanding our flight capacity with testing expected to start next year and commercial service in 2026.” More than 150 guests watched the flight from the ground at Spaceport America, the company says. The four private astronauts included Lina Borozdina, who is originally from Ukraine and whose spacesuit displayed both the Ukraine and US flags. “You can’t see wars or suffering from above,” Borozdina says in a statement. “Just the beauty of our planet.” The other three astronauts: Robie Vaughn from Texas; Franz Haider from Austria; and Neil Kornswiet from California. The company has now flown 32 people into space. One of them, Ron Rosano, recently spoke to USA Today about the experience. “Once in space, Rosano gazed upon mountain rages, white sands and the thin blue line of Earth’s atmosphere,” the story reads. “In that moment, Rosano was struck by the realization that all living beings exist within that line, which is all that stands between life on earth and the cold dark void of the universe.”

Listen up

Today’s entry into the 2024 Morning Word Playlist Project comes from journalist Laura Paskus.

1. “Ride It On” by Mazzy Star: “Because MAZZY STAR.”

2. “Misunderstood” by Wilco: “Always loved this song, but this specific version helped me cope with the obfuscatory PIOs (public servants who refused to talk with or provide documents to reporters like me) and attorneys in the Susana Martinez administration. I would listen whenever feeling particularly frustrated with former [New Mexico Environment Department] Secretary Ryan Flynn or the governor’s office and feel much better by the end.”

3. “In a Silent Way” by Miles Davis: “Always reminds me of a particularly beautiful winter.”

4. “Wisdom Through Music” by Pharoah Sanders: “I mean, so good.”

5. “Pa’l Norte” by Don Alex: “Cumbia dub = get moving.”

Hit the road

Actor Josh Gad (currently starring in the Broadway show Gutenberg! The Musical!)but also well known for his role as the voice of Olaf the Snowman in the Frozen universe) talks to Condé Nast about his travel experiences, and lets it slip he recently visited these parts for the first time while road-tripping with his family. “We drove Route 66—my kids only knew it from the movie Cars—and went to New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of California. It was such an old-fashioned, wonderful trip that you just don’t take anymore. I had never been to Albuquerque or Santa Fe. I’d been to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, but you forget how magical and unique these places are.” The Manual also spills some (digital) ink on road-tripping in New Mexico, with “three routes featuring highlights and hidden gems” that include heading on a northeast jaunt from Santa Fe with stops at Pecos National Historic Park, Greer Garson’s Forked Lightning Ranch and a bite to eat at Frankies at the Casanova (we suggest playing La Junta’s song “Pecos” while on this trip) before heading to Las Vegas (New Mexico’s Las Vegas). The story also includes multi-day adventures heading southwest and southeast, with a nice combo of indoor/outdoor activities along the way. As regular readers of this newsletter may recall, earlier this month, Travel & Leisure magazine included Taos in its list of 12 locales for “girls trips” this winter. Now, T&L is back with “25 affordable girls weekend getaways,” of which Santa Fe is one, being, the story says, “tailor-made for a women’s getaway.” In between eating and shopping, T&L recommends taking a Women of the West Historical Walking Tour ($45 per person), on which “you and your girlfriends can hear all about the women who changed history and find just a bit of inspiration for your own revolution.”

Poet Sze honored for science/literary writing

The National Book Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have named Santa Fe poet Arthur Sze’s most recent book The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems (Copper Canyon Press 2021) one of three recipients of the 2024 Science + Literature Selected Titles. The initiative, according to a news announcement, “identifies three books annually, across genres, that deepen readers’ understanding of science and technology, and focuses on highlighting the diversity of voices in contemporary science and technology writing.” The authors, whose books were chosen by a committee of literary and scientific experts, receive a $10,000 cash prize, are honored at a public ceremony in March and will be featured in national public programming. The two other recipients are nonfiction writer Brad Fox forThe Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma for the novel Digging StarsSze’s collection, the announcement notes, covers five decades of his poetry, “blending Chinese, Japanese, Native American and Western traditions” and considers the beauty of the natural world, the intricacies of time and space, and invites readers to reimagine our legacy on this endangered planet.” Sze’s 2019 collection Sight Lines won the National Book AwardHe spoke with SFR last year in advance of an event here celebrating Copper Canyon Press’ 50th anniversary.

Many years of sunshine days

The National Weather Service forecasts a mostly sunny day, with a high temperature near 54 degrees and north wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Enjoy several days of warm, sunny weather before another storm moves in to the state at the end of the week.

Thanks for reading! The Word is trying to memorize the sentence, “Nesting chinstrap penguins experience more than ten thousand microsleeps a day, each lasting an average of four seconds,” from this month’s “Findings” column in Harper’s Magazine, to roll out the next time she encounters a conversational lull.

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