Shared Child Protection Work in New Mexico Exceeds Expectations
Not long after joining NCCD nearly a year ago, I had the opportunity to participate in my first onsite work visit: to observe colleagues delivering safety-organized practice training to child protection supervisors in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A lifelong Midwesterner, it was my first time in the state; the people were kind, the landscape was breathtaking, and the food was deliciously spicy. As a newbie to the Structured Decision Making® (SDM) system and our practice curriculum, there were many things I didn’t know at the time, that is for certain. But what quickly became clear to me was how uniquely ready, willing, and open the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) leadership team members and supervisors were to embracing the change process they were embarking on.
It is a tall order for an entire jurisdiction with its own practice culture to shift into new ways of engaging with families and children while utilizing new tools—not to mention partnering with outsiders each step of the way. Ultimately, at all levels of involvement in CYFD, I’ve noticed genuine desire and enthusiasm to continually do better for children in New Mexico.
NCCD was introduced to New Mexico CYFD through a mutual partnership with Casey Family Programs. Casey was already involved in some important projects in New Mexico when CYFD recognized a need to update both their safety and risk assessments. After discussions among the three entities, an ambitious plan was agreed upon to both focus on the assessment tools and train advanced practice skills to supervisors throughout the entire state. This would truly cultivate a shift in practice aimed at better outcomes for children and families.
Our latest work onsite was to host three stakeholder meetings. We recognize that to achieve success in implementing a new safety assessment, we cannot work within a bubble. Instead, we reached out to representatives from the Navajo Nation plus local pueblos and tribes, child protection attorneys and judges, and law enforcement representatives. We hoped each group would benefit from understanding and having a voice in influencing the new safety assessment and safety-organized practice processes in the way their work overlaps with CYFD’s child protection work.
In three separate meetings, we gathered information and feedback and discovered a strong desire within each group to be more involved in planning and implementing our project work as seamlessly as possible. These meetings exceeded our expectations and brought our partnership to a level we always aspire to but do not often reach. For a jurisdiction to spend additional time reaching out to these critical partners really enhances the work we do, the equity we aim to achieve, and the utility of the assessment tools that will soon be in the hands of New Mexico’s child protection workers.
We always talk about creating and defining a set of common language and thresholds regarding child safety, and how important that is to the functions of child protection work within the child protection system. Imagine expanding that out to the law enforcement community, mutually creating the language with Indigenous child protection partners, and having a common language to use in the courtroom to describe danger indicators, for example. Oh, to be on the same page!
One of the most moving and symbolic moments of those meetings happened when it was time to sit down with law enforcement officials, and we found that both our meeting room AND telephone line were at capacity. Even in planning for a large group, we underestimated their participation. From a social work perspective, it’s easy to imagine that these people are too busy, or perhaps satisfied with working in silos, keeping current processes separate. In reality, we encountered a huge group of sheriffs and officers with a strong commitment to the mission we all share: safety for New Mexico’s children.
Our work in New Mexico continues and is ever-evolving. New people from these stakeholder groups will soon join our workgroup, and we will have the conversations needed—surely some difficult ones—to build what NCCD and CYFD believe will be very strong tools and processes in providing safety for children in New Mexico. We welcome this golden opportunity to work with CYFD’s dedicated staff and administrators.
Jess Haven is a program associate on the NCCD Social Services Practice team.