CYFD bill to address worker shortages

Posted at: 01/28/2014 5:43 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Some help may soon be on the way for New Mexico's overworked and understaffed Children, Youth and Families Department.

Lawmakers say CYFD has 159 vacant jobs right now and a staggering caseload for social workers dealing with child abuse cases like the one involving Omaree Varela and his mother, Synthia Varela Casaus.

The boy told police a year ago that his mom was beating him.

Police say she kicked her son to death right after Christmas.

CYFD says they had no open case on the family, but still it highlights the department's chronic understaffing and heavy turnover.

Lawmakers want the state to recruit future social workers, and pay two years of their college tuition, in return for two years of work at CYFD. Right now, many bail out after six months.

Senator Michael Padilla of Bernalillo County spent his childhood with CYFD as a foster child.

"We're recruiting folks and losing them at a rate of about 90 percent. For every one hundred that come in maybe ten will stay. What this is gonna do is motivate folks to stay in the field past where folks are normally leaving," Padilla said.

Padilla's bill has support on both sides.

"This is not a party issue; we all are very concerned about the state's responsibility for the care of these children. We want to make sure it's done right. We want to make sure these children are being tracked through the system so this is not partisan at all," Senator Sander Rue of Albuquerque said.

Before the legislative session, the governor vowed to stop the revolving door at CFYD, proposing substantial pay raises for caseworkers.

With broad support and momentum from the Omaree Varela case this bill appears to have a good chance of making it to the governor's desk.