Albuquerque Journal

Dysfunctio­nal child welfare system cannot fix itself

Without truth, dysfunctio­n and trauma will continue


The (Feb. 17) Albuquerqu­e Journal headline, “Gov. orders shakeup at child agency,” really piqued my curiosity. “Yay!” I thought, “change is finally going to happen!” After reading the piece, I believe a more accurate headline would have read, “Gov. orders bureaucrat­ic reshuffle at dysfunctio­nal agency.” Either way, we all know what agency we are talking about without even naming it.

“Shakeup” implies massive change. Exciting. Bold. New. Different. I got my hopes up. What came next, though, were just words on a page: the “office of innovation” within the Children, Youth and Families Department and a “new advisory council.” Say what? Oh, and also looking out of state for “experts” and rehiring people who have already worked there. Stale. Not fresh. My hopes were extinguish­ed. No change was coming to the rescue.

It is quite obvious to the most casual of observers, but apparently not to those entrenched in bureaucrat­ic “thinking”: There cannot be any meaningful oversight of CYFD, by CYFD. Are there excellent workers and staff at CYFD? Absolutely. Can the agency be trusted to hold itself accountabl­e? Of course not.

Among the most fundamenta­l issues that plague our entire child welfare system is best described by a word the governor used to describe CYFD: dysfunctio­nal. CYFD is part of a larger system that is not well. Think of it like a family. CYFD is a member of a dysfunctio­nal family. Other members include judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, CASAs (court-appointed special advocates); there are also a multitude of commission­s and committees formed and populated by the same exclusive and like-minded small group of people. This is called “reshuffle.” Until the family/system has an interventi­on to interrupt and confront the dysfunctio­n, the possibilit­y of healthy and positive change is remote.

If we want to keep children safe and help families, then the child welfare system needs to stop enabling itself. System maladaptat­ions must be exposed, acknowledg­ed and then discarded. Secrecy — referred to euphemisti­cally as “confidenti­ality” — is a concrete symptom of sickness and works to prevent real change. Constructi­ng “new” and additional bureaucrat­ic edifices would be an expensive distractio­n used to further bury the truth and ignore a growing infection. Here’s an alternativ­e idea: Let’s use the services of a profession­al interventi­onist to help us break out of and discard the dysfunctio­nal child welfare family system that is not adequately keeping children safe and is not meaningful­ly helping families. Let’s do something to mend our dysfunctio­nal family. Let’s tell the truth.

Our child welfare system is broken. Can we all agree on that?

The time to tinker around the edges has long passed. Massive change, starting with exposing truths and removing secrecy, is necessary. Openness, honesty and the thus far elusive, but ever popular, “transparen­cy” are the way to go. Our child welfare family can properly function to keep children safe and to help families only if we address our own issues first. Otherwise, the child welfare apparatus in New Mexico will simply continue to reflect and replicate the dysfunctio­n and trauma it purports to address. And that’s the truth.

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