As published in the Albuquerque Journal on May 28th

Ensuring that children are safe and receive the care they deserve is a responsibility that falls on each of us.

It’s that deep belief in a shared duty that led concerned teachers and neighbors to report the neglect and mistreatment of two children to police, administrators and the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD).

The fact that they were left to endure years of preventable trauma raises alarming concerns about the state of this critical agency and the systems and processes that should have prevented these horrific events. The failure in communication between authorities that could have stopped this abuse is unconscionable, and what happened to these children is inexcusable.

We must investigate how it happened, hold our leaders accountable, and prevent this from happening again.

As governor, I will build a vigilant CYFD focused on preventing tragedies rather than reacting to them, comprised of qualified, trained and committed staff working to ensure the safety, stability and prosperity of our most vulnerable children.

Children in danger must be taken to safety, and parents struggling to make ends meet must have the necessary supports to overcome adversity and keep their families intact.

Achieving this vision will be no easy feat, but it’s a challenge I’m uniquely qualified to undertake.

Reforming systems stubborn to change is exactly what I did when I went undercover in a nursing home to expose and put an end to fraud and abuse. As a result, New Mexico became a national leader in home- and community-based care.

Now, under new leadership, the Department of Aging is plagued by managerial malpractice, and critical health services have suffered. A recent Journal article “Nursing Homes in New Mexico Rank at the Bottom” exposed 2,217 infractions ranging from deadly to dangerous. This is an example of a failure to govern.

More than ever, we need sustained investments and competent leadership.

To address CYFD’s debilitating staff vacancy rate, I will invest in hiring, training and retaining skilled social workers and leaders to repair this broken system.

CYFD must enact crucial accountability, reporting and auditing processes; conduct more home visits; and support families trying to raise their kids under tremendous economic and psychological pressures like homelessness, addiction and poverty.

Further, I will reinstate the New Mexico’s Children’s Cabinet, which would require department secretaries and their staffs to collaboratively engage in identifying programs and services that reduce the risks that our children face today.

This effort has lapsed and languished under the Martinez administration, but executed effectively will build bridges between families and affordable housing, transportation, health care, gainful employment and other services.

The goal must be to create a comprehensive and cost-effective model for social services delivery.

One of the most productive steps we must take is to expand and enhance early-childhood home visiting while guaranteeing public pre-K for every New Mexican family. With these steps, New Mexico will become a leader in supporting kids and families, creating more opportunity, a stronger economy and safer communities in the short and long run.

In order to realize this vision for CYFD we must hold our partners, our leaders and ourselves accountable. Everyone has to be part of this effort to protect children and make their safety and care our No. 1 priority.