Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Albuquerque Journal 

New CYFD tool good step for saving children


April 11, 2018

The Children, Youth and Families Department has unveiled a tool that will save lives, literally.

It’s called the Law Enforcement Portal, a database that officers can access from their computers or mobile devices. It lets law enforcement access CYFD records, including previous referrals and contacts with children and families, whether any of those referrals were substantiated, and the names and phone numbers of case workers.

The goal is giving police officers quick access to background information that allows them to quickly focus their investigation and get to the bottom of what’s happening in a home when child abuse is suspected.

This is a potential game changer that can help prevent abused children from falling through the cracks, and CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson and her agency deserve credit for bringing it to fruition.

It’s the type of tool that just may have saved Omaree Varela, the 9-year-old kicked to death by his mother while his abusive stepfather shot up heroin in an adjacent room. CYFD had nine referrals to the family for alleged child abuse or neglect, although only two of those referrals were substantiated.

Six months before Omaree’s death, an anonymous 911 call was traced to the family’s home. On that call, the stepfather could be heard profanely and abusively berating the boy. Officers dispatched to the home dismissed the episode, not knowing about the other CYFD referrals.

After that tragedy, Gov. Susana Martinez ordered CYFD and law enforcement agencies statewide to do a better job of sharing information on cases involving crimes against children.

“It is absolutely critical for police officers to have this information,” Jacobson said. “It allows law enforcement to know so much more even before they knock on a door. They will know how many children are in the home and to check on their safety, and it helps the officers understand if the people they’re talking to are being honest.”

The portal was designed by CYFD information technology staff and paid for by a $480,000 allocation from the Legislature, although the federal government reimbursed the state for $100,000.

The tool is accessible from a desktop, laptop — including those mounted in police units — or from a mobile device. CYFD has been training officers on the system since last May. So far, about 150 officers have taken part, but the goal is to have all law enforcement and investigative agencies from around the state trained on the system. Training sessions are held monthly.

Given the sensitivity of the information on the system, the portal tracks who is accessing it and what information and cases that person is looking at.

CYFD and law enforcement agencies in New Mexico have taken their share of hits in recent years over missing signals in horrific child abuse cases that resulted in children dying. Much of that criticism has been deserved, such as in the case of Omaree.

But CYFD and law enforcement also deserve credit when they learn from those mistakes and take steps to improve the system, and this portal certainly qualifies. Sadly, this tool won’t save every child out there, but it’s a good start.

Now it’s up to every law enforcement agency in the state to seize the opportunity and get trained. Failing to do so could mean the death of another child who could have been saved.

— Albuquerque Journal


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