As foster and adoptive parents of 13 years, we have had hundreds of children in our home, worked with many social workers, children’s attorneys, advocates and therapists, and mentored numerous biological and foster parents. We are on the front lines and have seen firsthand the personal triumphs and tragic stories of children placed in the care of the state. Over the last few years, the previous Children, Youth and Families Department secretary presented a narrative that does not reflect reality.

The change in leadership of CYFD offers an opportunity to make substantive changes for the better. We encourage the new secretary designate, Barbara Vigil, former state Supreme Court justice, consider the following changes to benefit the children of the state of New Mexico.

Promote and establish an environment of respect and integrity that extends to interactions between employees, foster parents and families served by the department. We would appreciate phone calls returned and email replies sent in a timely fashion and with a professional response. Interactions should promote trust and therefore be earnest and forthright. Foster parents are not babysitters, and parents served by the department should not be treated with contempt. When workers lie in an official document or to a judge or foster parent, hold them accountable.

Be forthcoming with information. When a child comes into care, be honest about each child’s situation. Allow potential foster families to assess the fit of the family for the child to minimize the risk of future disruptions in placement. Share the department’s plan for the child so we know if we are preparing them to go home next week or to start a new school year with us.

The department should provide timely, vital information so when a baby has an ear infection and is screaming in pain, a prescription can be filled quickly and without incident.

When a child is moved to a new placement, provide details about the child’s background, behaviors, needs and treatment. The child’s developmental progress must not be interrupted. Allowing communication among care providers is the best way to ensure continuity of care.

Foster parents should have communication with the child’s school and be listed as an emergency contact so when a need arises, the child doesn’t have to wait for a previous worker to pass on the message.

After six months or more of caring for a child, foster parents would like the same consideration and legal standing as “fictive kin” or someone who met the child briefly before coming into care.

Stop retaliating against foster parents for speaking up for the unmet needs of children. Moving a child from one placement to another because the foster parents “ask for too many services” causes additional trauma. Children have a right to expect to remain in one placement until they go home to family, their case is finalized or it is unsafe; frivolous placement moves should not occur.

Conduct exit interviews and maintain records of why workers leave the department and why foster parent licenses are not renewed, revoked or surrendered. Make the appropriate adjustments and improvements to retain and attract quality and experience.

Most important, provide an independent and external venue for children in care, their families and their foster families to elevate issues that cannot be resolved within the department.

Douglas and Jill Michel are longtime foster parents who reside in Albuquerque. Douglas Michel is this year’s recipient for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government’s William S. Dixon award in the private citizen category.

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