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CYFD cabinet secretary addresses foster parent program
Monique Jacobson says San Juan County is home to more than 100 foster children
FARMINGTON — Children Youth and Families Department Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson spoke about her department's efforts to help foster children during a visit to The Daily Times office on Thursday.
Jacobson was in Farmington to meet with department staff members, as well as foster parents.
There are more than 2,600 children in foster care statewide, including more than 100 in the San Juan County area, according to numbers provided by Jacobson. Jacobson said foster parents in the Farmington area told her during her visit about the mentorship program they participate in to help new foster parents. She said it is a program that could be expanded to other parts of the state.
About two years ago, the department launched its Pull Together effort, a community engagement effort focused on simplifying the process for families to find resources such as low-cost child care and free summer lunches. It also encourages community members to get involved in efforts to improve the lives of children in the communities, such as through donating backpacks for foster children.
Jacobson discussed that initiative during her visit to The Daily Times, as well as efforts to collect backpacks for foster children and a helpline that the department is working to launch that will help foster children reach out to CYFD if they are concerned about the care they are receiving in foster homes.
Jacobson said the Pull Together effort and the outreach involved led to a large number of donations coming in for the backpacks program. In the past couple of years, CYFD has collected more than 5,000 backpacks.
“It allows us to tell these children that they’re not alone and that the whole state has their back,” she said.
Jacobson said CYFD needs more foster parents. She said not everyone can be a foster parent. CYFD has a screening process for potential foster parents that looks for risk factors.
“We want more who are really great and care greatly for these children,” she said.
While CYFD screens foster parents, Jacobson admitted that the process does not catch every potential abuser. She said when she started as cabinet secretary about three years ago, she met with foster children who told her stories about being abused while in foster care.
“Sometimes, the most evil of people are the best at hiding it,” Jacobson said.
She said CYFD needs to get better at identifying those people. The department is in the process of hiring a grievance officer as part of the foster child grievance policy it is implementing. The policy includes a phone number that children can call to report concerns about the care they are receiving. Jacobson said the children should be able to speak with their case workers about their concerns, but not all children feel safe doing so.
Jacobson said she anticipates the grievance policy and phone line will be in place by the end of the summer.
Jacobson also thanked state Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, for sponsoring legislation that funded CYFD's purchase of a new building in Bernalillo County. Jacobson said the facilities the department had in Bernalillo County were not adequate, and the largest portion of foster children in the state come from Bernalillo County.
She said Neville recognized that need and sponsored the legislation, even though it does not include the area he represents.
“He did it because it was the right thing overall,” she said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.