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Dysfunctional child welfare system cannot fix itself

Without truth, dysfunction and trauma will continue



The (Feb. 17) Albuquerque Journal headline, “Gov. orders shakeup at child agency,” really piqued my curiosity. “Yay!” I thought, “change is finally going to happen!” After reading the piece, I believe a more accurate headline would have read, “Gov. orders bureaucratic reshuffle at dysfunctional agency.” Either way, we all know what agency we are talking about without even naming it.

“Shakeup” implies massive change. Exciting. Bold. New. Different. I got my hopes up. What came next, though, were just words on a page: the “office of innovation” within the Children, Youth and Families Department and a “new advisory council.” Say what? Oh, and also looking out of state for “experts” and rehiring people who have already worked there. Stale. Not fresh. My hopes were extinguished. No change was coming to the rescue.

It is quite obvious to the most casual of observers, but apparently not to those entrenched in bureaucratic “thinking”: There cannot be any meaningful oversight of CYFD, by CYFD. Are there excellent workers and staff at CYFD? Absolutely. Can the agency be trusted to hold itself accountable? Of course not.

Among the most fundamental issues that plague our entire child welfare system is best described by a word the governor used to describe CYFD: dysfunctional. CYFD is part of a larger system that is not well.

Think of it like a family. CYFD is a member of a dysfunctional family. Other members include judges, lawyers, guardians ad litem, CASAs (court-appointed special advocates); there are also a multitude of commissions and committees formed and populated by the same exclusive and like-minded small group of people.

This is called “reshuffle.” Until the family/system has an intervention to interrupt and confront the dysfunction, the possibility of healthy and positive change is remote.

If we want to keep children safe and help families, then the child welfare system needs to stop enabling itself. System maladaptations must be exposed, acknowledged and then discarded. Secrecy — referred to euphemistically as “confidentiality” — is a concrete symptom of sickness and works to prevent real change.

Constructing “new” and additional bureaucratic edifices would be an expensive distraction used to further bury the truth and ignore a growing infection. Here’s an alternative idea: Let’s use the services of a professional interventionist to help us break out of and discard the dysfunctional child welfare family system that is not adequately keeping children safe and is not meaningfully helping families. Let’s do something to mend our dysfunctional family. Let’s tell the truth.

Our child welfare system is broken. Can we all agree on that?

The time to tinker around the edges has long passed. Massive change, starting with exposing truths and removing secrecy, is necessary.

Openness, honesty and the thus far elusive, but ever popular, “transparency” are the way to go. Our child welfare family can properly function to keep children safe and to help families only if we address our own issues first. Otherwise, the child welfare apparatus in New Mexico will simply continue to reflect and replicate the dysfunction and trauma it purports to address. And that’s the truth.

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