New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Secretary Barbara Vigil, who stepped into the Cabinet-level position last month, plans to hire an outside agency to conduct an extensive review of her department’s intervention procedures following at least three violent child deaths this year.

Most recently, 30-year-old Kiria Milton was charged Monday with killing her 1-month-old son, Waylon Padilla, in Valencia County. Though the child had not been placed in foster care, the Children, Youth and Families Department had been notified previously that Milton was hospitalized for mental health troubles, and her husband had taken custody of the boy and his older brother, a court document says.

“Any time we have a death of a child, it’s a serious incident in the eyes of CYFD,” Vigil said in an interview Friday.

Under its current protocols, the department completes a “critical incident review” and an internal investigation into the death of any child whose family was involved with CYFD, she said.

She wants to take it one step further.

Vigil said she plans to contract an “outside, independent” organization to do a thorough review of the department’s policies and procedures for intervening when a child could be at risk of abuse or neglect, with a goal of determining “whether we should make improvements.”

She had planned to pursue a third-party analysis of CYFD when she stepped into the job, said Vigil, a former state Supreme Court justice. But the Valencia County death made it “more imperative” to get the work done quickly.

A criminal complaint filed in Valencia County Magistrate Court says deputies arrived at Milton’s home Monday after she called 911 and told a dispatcher there was a dead baby in her room. Her husband was out of town at the time and she was “hysterical” when she made the call, the complaint says.According to the document, deputies found the infant with heavy bruising on his face and head.

State prosecutors’ motion seeking pretrial detention of Milton says she had called 911 a week earlier, as she was having a mental breakdown. She told a dispatcher she “did not want to hurt the child” and needed help. Milton was hospitalized, the motion says. Authorities contacted CYFD and Milton’s husband took custody of their two children — the 1-month-old and a 4-year-old boy.

After Milton was released from the hospital, her husband went out of town, the motion says, leaving the baby and older boy in her care.

The Valencia County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment on the case.

“The boy was in the custody of a parent/guardian and not in foster care at the time of his passing,” CYFD said in a statement. “The department is investigating, and once that process is complete, the department is authorized by law to provide summary information.”

Waylon’s death is at least the third suspected child abuse death in the state in 2021, CYFD spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst said.

In September, Shaquille Ferguson Sr. was charged with the drowning death of his 5-year-old son, Shaquille Ferguson Jr.; police believe the boy died in the Rio Grande at a park in Truth or Consequences. A month later, Michael David Garcia of Albuquerque was charged with fatally abusing his 2-year-old daughter, Diana McGrory, court records show.

Vigil said she was uncertain of when the outside review of her agency would begin.

“I think we need it as soon as possible,” she said.

“Now how soon that will be? I’m not certain,” she added. “We have to go probably through a procurement process to ensure that the contract is in accordance with all of our state requirements and then select a firm to come in and do this.”

Moore-Pabst noted the report’s findings and recommendations will be available to the public.

State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was not available for comment Friday on Vigil’s plans for a review of her agency.

State Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Los Lunas Republican, said an outside review of CYFD is “way overdue.”

“My concern is that, is this just lip service by a brand-new secretary who’s trying to make themselves look good?” Fajardo said. “We had very high hopes for [previous CYFD Secretary Brian] Blalock when he came in, and he was a huge disappointment.”

Fajardo said she commends Milton for attempting to seek services for her mental health condition. “She had the guts to say, ‘I need help.’ ”

“CYFD has this ideology that a child should always be with the mother regardless,” Fajardo added. “And we know that’s not always true.”

(1) comment

Barbara Harrelson

I am outraged that innocent children keep dying in New Mexico, often by their parents' hands, and our state department, CYFD, has not been doing all it could do to prevent it. IT IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. My vote for governor in the next election may hinge on this issue alone. While Sec. Vigil hasn't been in the position that long, and I believe her intentions are heartfelt, it is LONG PAST DUE for the state to be seeking help from third-party sources/agencies to help us figure out how to effectively serve New Mexico children and their families.

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