Governor Susana Martinez was joined today by Children, Youth, and Families (CYFD) Secretary Yolanda Deines and Doña Ana County law enforcement officials to present a united front against child maltreatment as the Governor kicked off Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. Governor Martinez read with kids at the Children's Garden Child
Development Center in Las Cruces and provided them with workbooks on child safety. The Governor has declared April Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month and encouraged all New Mexicans to be vigilant about reporting suspicion of child abuse and neglect and creating a positive environment for children across the state.
Governor Martinez, Secretary Deines, and law enforcement officials also asked the public to join the state's efforts to identify child abuse and neglect, and help children in the wake of abuse. Secretary Deines said the implementation of the #SAFE hotline last year helped CYFD identify 17 percent more victims of child abuse in 2011 than they did in 2010, and encouraged New Mexicans to help CYFD continue to identify victims of child abuse by reporting it via the
#SAFE hotline by dialing #7233 or 1-855-333-SAFE.
"Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month is a time for remembering our collective duty to speak up, confront abuse, and stand up for innocent children across New Mexico," said Governor Martinez. "I am asking all New Mexicans to join us in this important effort. We need to come together as parents, teachers, family members, and neighbors to create a safe and positive environment for our children. I encourage everyone to be vigilant about reporting suspicion of child abuse and neglect by dialing #SAFE from any cell phone or calling 1-855-333-SAFE."
Governor Martinez and Secretary Deines also asked New Mexicans to consider playing a major role in a child's life by serving as foster parents. "People always ask me what they can do to help prevent child abuse in their communities," says Secretary Deines. "The perfect answer is foster care. Our child welfare system relies on people across the state to step up and help protect and care for kids in crisis. If you are even curious about foster care, I encourage you to call CYFD at 1-800-432-2075."
Calls to the #SAFE hotline, useable from anywhere in the state, go to CYFD's Statewide Central Intake unit, housed in Albuquerque. From there, a trained caseworker takes the call and asks for as much information as possible. The calls are immediately reviewed by a supervisor, screened in or out for investigation, assigned a priority response level, and rerouted to the county office where the child resides. Some calls are screened out for various reasons, including calls that are not allegations of child abuse. Calls are also cross-reported to appropriate law enforcement agencies.
"Keeping kids safe is a team effort," says Deines. "We need the community to take this responsibility very seriously because our case workers can't even knock on a door unless we get a call first. Call #SAFE from your cell phone. It doesn't get any easier than this."
During the previous legislative session, Governor Martinez and a bi-partisan group of lawmakers pushed for legislation that would have increased prison time for individuals who commit child abuse, increased penalties for drunk drivers who kill kids, defined new crimes where certain behavior toward children is classified as predatory, and extended the Baby Brianna law by providing life in prison for someone who intentionally kills any child up to 18 years of age.
Unfortunately, these items were stalled in the last legislative session, but the Governor plans to renew her efforts during the next regularly-scheduled session.
"We have an obligation to all the children out there who right now may be living in fear, scared of the adults in their lives who are supposed to love and protect them," says Martinez. "We can all play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect. Protecting our kids is up to us."
Secretary Deines also discouraged so-called malicious reporting, or people who falsely accuse neighbors, ex-spouses or others of child abuse. "Every hour we spend sorting out false and malicious allegations is an hour taken from a frightened child who truly needs our help," said the Secretary, who has personally investigated hundreds of child abuse cases over her career. "Please find a healthier way to express your anger, and don't take time away from a child who might be in danger."
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. Report suspected child abuse or neglect by calling #SAFE (#7233) from a cell phone or 1-855-333-SAFE.