AFSCME Council 18

Why is NM Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) Unable to Retain Workers?

Problems at CYFD are Nowhere Near as Simple
as Martinez Administration Tries to Make it Sound.

CYFD and HSD workers deal with some of the worst things society has to offer. Call after call, you may see children and adults who are living in very poor conditions, parents who are unable to provide affection and care for those children, drugs tearing families apart, children who have been hurt so badly that they will contend with lifelong emotional issues.

Deaths, shakings, abandonment, broken families, children crying, you name it, CYFD Investigators and support staff are facing it on a daily basis.

Lack of Appropriate Training

CYFD workers have their education, some social work experience, and then about 2-3 months of training. Most CYFD Investigators receive assignments before training has ended. The training itself covers little of the reality faced. Most workers come in with minimal real-world interviewing skills.

Children are not easy to interview. Neither are adults, especially when they are street smart and have something to hide. Training provides maybe a day of coverage on what kinds of injuries that may be seen through pictures and videos, but many workers are “green” and have not been exposed to things like this in the past. They are provided minimal legal training, covering mainly writing an affidavit, but no training regarding how courts work or even how to testify.

Most will have had no exposure to drugs (what they look like, how they’re used, how they smell, etc) and in the CORE training get very little information on them.

They are expected to go out, gather information and make judgments on allegations from there. Luck determines if trainees go out more than a couple times with a supervisor before they’re on their own.

Lackluster training creates a spectrum of issues and inevitable turnover.

In New Mexico, trainings consists of group activities alone, without individual feedback, hands-on training into criminal elements, or any pertinent information on what happens in a court.

Other regional states require 6 months of training for their front line workers. During training, workers do not receive a caseload until classes are fully completed. Extensive training is provided on various types of injuries and abuse. There is a piece on Law Enforcement, drug awareness, and how to watch for gang activity. Mock investigations, interviews, and reports, are conducted and individual feedback is given. Court training includes mock hearings with real judges and attorneys, where CYFD workers practice testifying in court.

High Caseloads

This is the big one. AFSCME brought the conversation about caseload levels to the Governor, State Personnel Director Moser, and the State Personnel Board on several occasions over the past two years.

In Several NM Counties, Investigators are being assigned between 20-30 investigations in a full work month. Some weeks, workers see six to nine assignments one week.

The recommended national standard caseload by the US Department of Health and Human Services (in cooperation with the Child Welfare League of America) for investigators is 12 per month.

New Mexico expects investigators to work double or more the national standard. An average investigation that is unsubstantiated, from the beginning, through all interviews and completion of the paperwork, can take between 6-8 hours to complete. If abuse is found, if a child is placed into state custody, or if intensive services are involved, a worker is facing a case requiring 12-16 hours of work.

CYFD Investigators cut into their time with families and children to stay on top. There is no such thing as a 40-hour work week. It is not unusual for a worker to go well beyond 16 hours in just one day because one case is so bad, and connected to a joint law enforcement investigation.

When AFSCME met with CYFD Directors to discuss recommended federal standards, the response was, verbatim, “Yeah, like that will ever happen.”

CYFD management was warned repeatedly by AFSCME to not wait for a child to die before acting to seriously address caseload levels from all directions, AFSCME was told repeatedly that our members were overreacting.

The link below is one study listing parts of the nation who have prioritized working toward those federal standards with success. They’re seeing less turnover, greater job satisfaction, a decrease in repeated reports, and a drop in costs.


A Good Ol’ Boys Atmosphere

This is extremely prevalent in New Mexico. When a worker gets into the CYFD system, they encounter the clique’s. If you’re in with the right people, you will go far. If not, and especially dare to speak out, you’re sure to find yourself a target with a career on the line.

AFSCME put together meetings with CYDF management to discuss concerns in County offices. Dozens of workers attended and brought over a dozen written statements from employees unable to attend. Management failed to address the issues that were brought up.

Instead, separate meetings were held where management stated their commitment to stand alone. Invited to bring up problems in front of a team of upper management, the few that spoke up were immediately told that their concerns were over exaggerated and no action plan emerged from the agency.

The meetings had a chilling affect on the offices because the message was clear: “Shut up and do your work.” AFSCME Local leadership’s requested to meet with a Cabinet Secretary designee. A meeting was set up with the Deputy Secretary, who left right before the meeting out the back door and never rescheduled.

AFSCME Stewards, and vocal workers who spoke about problems have found themselves repeatedly targeted by Management. Specific cases that implicate upper level CYFD management in sweeping abuse cases under the rug merit deeper investigation.

In Summary: Why Can’t CYFD Retain Workers?

CYFD recruits are going into jobs that aren’t for the faint of heart, and without enough mental health or law enforcement type training. The work is mentally and emotionally demanding. They enter a world with little support management operating an executive mandate to “downsize” state government.

New Mexico Media have not dug into the systemic crisis. Instead, they chose to spotlight front-line CYFD workers (or APD Officers) who may or may not have made a bad judgement call one or two years ago.

Investigators are haunted by memories of a harmed child who’s case slips through the cracks of New Mexico’s willfully neglected system of citizen well-being.

The Governor’s administration has made it clear that they think they’re doing all right. Current players, who cover for each other, must start thinking outside the box, include the fresh ideas coming from dedicated career employees, and begin to turn the ship.

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