Children under the care of the state in New Mexico, lacking suitable placements, find themselves resorting to overnight stays in office buildings, a situation acknowledged by the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD). While efforts to address this issue are underway, the reality inside these offices reveals ongoing challenges for both the children and staff awaiting a resolution. In one instance, a location is regularly summoning law enforcement for assistance with the children.
Over the past year, Roswell Police responded to the CYFD Office 120 times, as disclosed in records spanning from October 2022 to October 2023. During one incident on October 5, 2023, captured on a police sergeant’s lapel camera, frustrations were voiced about the persistent housing crisis for these children. A CYFD employee expressed the difficulty in controlling the situation, acknowledging it as a recurring problem. The recorded conversation underscored the frequency of law enforcement responses to the office.
Listen to the 911 dispatch conversations at KRQE here.
The particular incident involved two teenage girls who were likely facing a night in the office due to the shortage of foster homes in the city. However, following the police intervention prompted by an altercation, the girls ended up in juvenile detention centers instead of suitable housing.
During the intervention, an upset mother, whose parental rights were allegedly revoked using a false police report, confronted CYFD employees. The lapel footage showed the chaotic scene inside the office, with the girls running amok, uttering profanities, and impeding the CYFD staff. The situation escalated when the oldest daughter, not under state custody, was told to leave and reacted by causing disruption and assaulting a CYFD employee.
Multiple 911 calls were made, describing the chaotic scene and requesting additional officers. Dispatchers labeled the incident a ‘riot,’ prompting a substantial response from law enforcement, including on-duty officers, the Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico State Police, fire, and paramedics.
The situation outside the office involved the older daughter and the mother being escorted out, but not without physical resistance. Inside, a conversation between the police sergeant and a CYFD employee highlighted the limitations on CYFD staff in handling such situations, emphasizing the need for law enforcement intervention.
Records since October 2022 indicate that CYFD frequently calls 911 for various issues, including children running away, damaging the office, and threatening staff. The escalating frustration of law enforcement and CYFD employees was evident, with concerns raised about the potential for a dangerous outcome if the situation persists.
Barbara Yehl, running a foster family support organization in Roswell, expressed anger at CYFD and the state for failing to ensure a safe environment for these children. She pointed out that the kids staying in the office have behavioral and mental health issues, contributing to their disruptive behavior.
CYFD’s Cabinet Secretary Designate Teresa Casados acknowledged the shortcomings of the current situation, mentioning ongoing talks to secure an alternative place for the children to sleep in Roswell. Despite efforts to provide resources and support, the thin availability of providers statewide remains a challenge.
In response to concerns about diverting police resources for these incidents, Casados emphasized that it is not solely a CYFD issue but a community problem. Trauma-informed training is being provided to CYFD staff to better handle challenging situations, and Casados encourages continued collaboration with law enforcement until a more sustainable solution is in place.
Since December 2022, CYFD reported instances of children sleeping in 19 offices across the state, with the maximum number in the Roswell office reaching four at one time during the summer. The ongoing struggle highlights the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to ensure the well-being of children in state custody.