New Mexico reaches settlement with foster youth, advocates
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has reached a settlement with foster youth and their advocates that will allow for the creation of a trauma response system for all children in state custody, officials said Thursday.
The Human Services Department and officials with the state’s child welfare agency in a statement announced the agreement that resolves a 2018 case that alleged youth in the New Mexico foster care system lacked safe, appropriate and stable placements as well as behavioral health services.
The agreement calls for building a statewide community-based behavioral health system that all children and families will have access to and implementing training for agency staff, foster parents and others who serve children affected by trauma.
Another provision calls for partnering with all New Mexico tribes and pueblos and complying with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act to ensure Native American children and families receive appropriate support and services. That includes access to traditional ceremonies and culturally responsive healing practices.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration inherited the lawsuit when she took office in 2019. Members of her cabinet were directed to begin identifying needs within the foster system and developing reforms with a focus on expanding access to behavioral health services.
Children, Youth and Families Secretary Brian Blalock said his goal has been to improve conditions for the state’s most vulnerable children and the settlement aligns with the work the state has been doing to resolve the issues.
Nancy Koenigsberg of Disability Rights New Mexico, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, said the settlement creates a path for the development of a system to meet the needs of foster youth and other children in state care.
“We know from our work with children and youth in New Mexico that there is a huge need for a child welfare system that is based around the principle of understanding and responding to the impacts of trauma,” she said.
State officials said children entering the foster care system are highly likely to have experienced multiple forms of trauma.
They pointed to medical and social science research that has established that exposure to trauma affects brain activity, function and development, particularly in young people.