Governor Susana Martinez today asked Valencia County residents to consider becoming foster parents with the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD). Martinez and CYFD Secretary Yolanda Deines say there is a critical need for foster parents in the area. CYFD has set up several meetings next week to provide information and answer questions about foster parenting. Governor Martinez also signed Senate Bill 27, which helps protect adoptive families and birth parents from fraudulent and predatory practices by
unlicensed service providers.
CYFD has identified an acute need for foster parents in the county and is launching a concerted recruitment effort. Over the last year, the number of kids in foster care has doubled while the number of active foster parents has remained flat.
"We need members of this community to come forward and help us take care of kids in crisis," Martinez told a large audience at the opening of CYFD's latest Heart Gallery display in Los Lunas. The Department opened the display to highlight the need for foster parents in the area. "CYFD's upcoming informational meetings are a great way learn more about what it takes, and then take that step to say, I will do this. I will become a foster parent."
The Heart Gallery is a CYFD-sponsored effort that seeks to pair foster children with Forever Families by displaying professional-quality photographs of children in state care. Governor Martinez currently hosts a special Governor's Heart Gallery in the lobby of her office in Santa Fe. "Today, there are 211 kids in state care in Valencia County, but only 15 to 20 foster families that are able to take new foster placements," says Deines. "When we don't have a foster home available in Valencia County, CYFD caseworkers have to look for safe and stable placements in neighboring counties. That could mean Bernalillo County, Sandoval County, or Socorro County to the south. Placements have been made as far as Las Cruces, Taos, and Farmington."
Deines says this situation has several negative consequences. Primarily, it is disruptive for children coming in to state custody, who need stability and consistency in a time of crisis. The situation burdens other counties, which each have their own challenges in recruiting foster homes and handling their own caseload.
It is also a stressor on the existing system and the caseworkers who work each day to keep kids safe. Kids in foster care are visited numerous times by their assigned caseworker. In order to visit them, the caseworker will have to drive to wherever those kids are placed, even if that requires travel to Farmington (4 hour drive from Belen) or Las Cruces (3 hour drive from Belen). The back and forth driving can numerous times each month, as kids will often have visitation with their parents, or court dates at which they must appear.
CYFD officials say they have close to 50 licensed foster homes in Valencia County, but many of them are not able to accept foster kids. Some of the licensed foster homes are at capacity, while others are in the final stages of adopting their foster kids and are no longer accepting additional children. Many of the licensed homes are "relative" foster homes. This means that while they are included in the total count of foster homes, they only became licensed because a relative child came into custody. They do not accept placement of other children.
If you want to become a foster parent call CYFD's foster parent recruitment hotline at 1-800-432-2075. You can go online to CYFD.org to see when there is an orientation meeting near you. On Monday and Tuesday, March 5 and 6, you can attend a CYFD foster parent information meeting at the CYFD office, 475 Courthouse Road, Los Lunas, from 6pm to 7:30pm. On Tuesday, March 6, CYFD will host an information booth at the Belen Public Library from 4pm to 7pm.