Corrected data from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department shows child abuse deaths in the state did not increase as dramatically in fiscal year 2020 as reported to lawmakers earlier this week, according to a memo issued Friday by Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey.

While a committee memo distributed to legislators Tuesday said child maltreatment deaths had more than doubled to 23 in 2020 from 11 a year earlier, the new memo said the actual number of deaths in 2020 was 13. The change was based on a CYFD data error, the memo added.

Abbey’s initial memo, dated Sept. 23, informed several legislators of a Legislative Finance Committee review of the Children, Youth and Families Department after some members of the committee raised concerns about the accuracy of data presented by former Cabinet Secretary Brian Blalock in July. In addition to the rise in child abuse deaths, Legislative Finance Committee staff found the state has the second-highest rate of repeated child maltreatment in the nation; CYFD has struggled with staff vacancies and high turnover in key leadership positions; and agency oversight needs improvement, the memo said.

It gave several recommendations for improvement. The Friday memo said those guidelines still stand.

“The change in reported deaths from CYFD to the LFC reinforces the recommendation from the Sept. 23 memo regarding the need for improved oversight and public reporting for child maltreatment deaths,” the memo read.

CYFD Secretary-designate Barbara Vigil, a former state Supreme Court justice who will step into the position Monday, said in a statement Friday the error was instead the result of the Legislative Finance Committee staff’s interpretation of the data.

“In response to LFC’s corrected memo, CYFD provided correct information on child fatalities to LFC from two sources, namely, from CYFD and the Office of the Medical Investigator in accordance with federal reporting standards,” Vigil wrote. “It appears that LFC duplicated the count from CYFD and the count from OMI to arrive at the 23 fatalities, which was incorrect. Had LFC communicated with CYFD prior to the finalization of the memo, this error would have been caught immediately.”

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