Program aims to reduce time children spend in foster care

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FARMINGTON — A $7.7 million federal grant will help expand a state program to San Juan County that aims to provide support for children in foster care as they find a permanent and safe home.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant was awarded to expand the Family Advocacy Program, an initiative developed as multidisciplinary approach to improving family welfare, according to an Administrative Office of the Courts press release.

The department operates the initiative with the Second and 13th Judicial District Courts.

The program currently operates in Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia counties, and will expand to McKinley and San Juan counties.

“The Eleventh Judicial District is grateful to be included in this initiative and excited to begin this project," Chief 11th District Court Judge Karen Townsend said in the press release. "Our goal is to achieve permanency for children in foster care faster and safely."

San Juan and McKinley county operate under the 11th Judicial District.

The mission of the program is to decrease the amount of time a child spends in foster care, along with reducing the length of time it takes for the child to find a permanent home, according to Sarah Jacobs, a state child welfare and juvenile justice attorney.

For each case; a team that incldues a social worker, a court-appointed attorney and a parent mentor will work with parents involved in a child protection case. They work together to address issues such as substance abuse problems to reduce the number of cases in which a parent's right to custody of their children has been terminated.

Jacobs said the initial data is limited but extremely positive.

The program was initiated by the New Mexico Supreme Court and piloted in 2013 in the 13th Judicial District Court, which contains Sandoval and Valencia counties. In those counties, children entering foster care are unifying with their parents more quickly or spending less time finding a permanent home, according to Jacobs.

Data shows the program was able to reunify families in about 70 percent of the cases in Sandoval and Valencia counties between 2013 and 2017, according to the press release.

The program is expected to expand to McKinley and San Juan counties in 2022 or 2023, Jacobs said.

Program officials are working to refine elements of the program before exporting it to a new judicial district court system, according to Jacobs.

McKinley and San Juan counties were selected to determine how the program would work in an area with a large Native American population.That will provide program officials an opportunity to measure how effective the program is with a population with different cultural needs, Jacobs said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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