Newly named Children, Youth and Families Secretary Dorian Dodson was in Las Vegas last week on a listening tour. She has been serving as acting secretary since the resignation of Mary Dale-Bolson in late February.
“We’ve holding listening sessions around the state, so if the community wants to come and talk to us about the agency, they can do it. We also invite the staff, so we talk to them all at the same time,” Dodson said.
Dodson said she has three big initiatives, one for each of the department’s service areas. She said everybody seems to be most focused on juvenile justice, which has two major parts — the facilities and the probation and parole offices.
“On the facilities side, we’re implementing the Missouri model and changing the name to Cambiar New Mexico, the philosophy being that it is not good to warehouse kids in large facilities. It’s good to keep kids in their community so that they are part of their community, even when they are committed in secure facilities — so we are looking at downsizing the facilities,” Dodson said.
Dodson said the first one to be downsized was the Springer Boys School.
“We could not warehouse kids in a remote area and then expect their families to be a part of their lives, and we’re still looking at where in the state we should be. This area is a very important hub, so we are looking at this (Las Vegas) as a possibility. We want community sites around the state so that kids can be close to their families,” Dodson said.
Dodson said this initiative means that staff is going to be working in an extremely different way. “In fact, they’re no longer called juvenile officers; they’re called youth care specialists. We’ve implemented a pre-employment screening test, so we find out if they have the aptitude to do this; not everybody is suited to work with kids.”
The secretary said on the protective services side of CYFD, the cases continue to increase and caseloads are harder.
“That’s the sign of the times that we’re in; the cases that protective services folks deal with are tougher than they’ve ever been before. We’re dealing with issues of meth and issues of poverty and 70 percent of kids we have in substitute care are there because of neglect, not abuse, neglect,” Dodson said.
Dodson said everyone thinks of the high-profile abuse cases, but those are the exception. She said it’s all of the things that happen when parents cannot or do not know how to take care of their kids.
“Neglect has long-term implications in terms of the development of the child, the physical health and their socialization. Neglect is a precursor for the kids to go into our juvenile justice system, so we all have to pay attention to that,” Dodson said.
Dodson said child care services subsidizes more than 22,000 children whose families are at or below 165 percent of poverty.
“That requires a lot of hand-holding and working with parents and keeping on top of them, as well as working with the child-care providers. One of the main precursors of really bad, violent abuse is the unwilling caretaker; that’s where you see shaken baby syndrome and some of the worst abuse. So good quality child care is very important,” Dodson said.
Dodson said CYFD is interested in forming partnerships with communities around the state and is interested in working to make things happen in Las Vegas.
“The most talks we’ve had with any community have been with Las Vegas. As a matter of fact, we met with Sen. Pete Campos and talked about moving here ramping up the speed in terms of communication, so we’ll be back out to talk about it. We’re excited about a lot of things about this community,” Dodson said.