Valencia County is still in desperate need of foster families

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The first casualties of poverty and substance abuse are often children, and when they enter protective services, they need foster homes, which are in short supply, especially in Valencia County.

“In the last three years that I’ve been here, the number of kids in custody fluctuates from between 190 to 220,” said Bart Sandoval, the northwest regional manager of protective services with Children, Youth and Families Department. “There are 214 kids in care today in Valencia County.”

Bart Sandoval Northwest regional manager

Neglected children most often come from homes where poverty and substance abuse are issues, and children of young mothers who have a new boyfriend are in an extremely risky situation for abuse, Sandoval said.

“The three main causes of kids coming into our system are substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health issues,” Sandoval said. “Valencia County has a pretty serious meth epidemic. The manufacturing of methamphetamine, the distribution of methamphetamine, and the use of methamphetamine in our county is pretty well known.

“We’re a relatively small county with just under 80,000 people, but we have some pretty high numbers for violence,” he said.

“Santa Fe reported only one murder (for 2013) up until October, but we’ve had a bunch here in Valencia County. From this calendar year, we’ve had at least four cases where a partner murdered a partner in front of the kids.”

The easy access to methamphetamine in Valencia County is due in large part to manufacturers hiding out from the tighter control of Bernalillo County law enforcement agencies with far greater resources than our small county, Sandoval said.

Prescription drug abuse has also sky-rocketed. About 80 percent of heroin addicts started out on pain medications stolen from the medicine cabinets of family or friends’ families, he said.

“We know that in Valencia County we have a high poverty rate,” said Sandoval. “I think that contributes to mental health issues, depression — the inability to provide for your family can drive you down a spiral.

“It can affect your capacity to function well as far as fending off depression. When you don’t have a purpose in life — you know how difficult that is for people — they spiral down that hole.

“They start drinking, they start using pain killers to numb themselves from the reality of life … Then the kids come to our attention because they’re not taking care of them.”

As of Oct. 31, the state has 1,946 children in protective services and 989 foster homes.

The greatest number of children referred for foster care are the youngest, between ages 1 and 5 years old, according to CYFD’s annual report.

Nationwide, of all the reported cases of child neglect and abuse, 40 percent of the children get screened into protective services, and 60 percent are unqualified.

In New Mexico, the trend is the opposite: 60 percent are qualified for services and 40 percent are not. Valencia County is following the same trend.

When a child comes into custody, the primary goal is to get them reunited with their families, and about 50 percent do return to their families, but 39 percent will be placed for adoption, according to CYFD’s annual report.

Providing foster children with stability and a nurturing home might be the greatest community service a person could give, said Sandoval.

For many of the children, a foster home might be their first experience of a stable, loving family.

“We have a big need for foster parents nationwide, and Valencia County is no exception,” said Sandoval. “We certainly could use two or three times the amount of foster homes than we have now.”

Ideally, the organization would be in a position to place every child that came into custody with a home that matched the child’s needs as well as the foster parent’s preferences in age, gender and types of behaviors that a child might exhibit, he said.

A tailored match is more of a clinical placement, but with so few available foster homes, they must work with what is available.

“Clearly, that’s not the best paradigm to work under, but that’s the way it is around the country,” Sandoval said. “If you have 200 kids in custody, it would be nice to have 400 foster homes available, so you could pick and choose, but that’s never the case anywhere.”

The trauma children have undergone includes physical or sexual abuse. More than 33 percent of allegations of sexual abuse in Valencia County are substantiated.

“Kids that have endured families where the neglect or the abuse, or the sexual abuse, has been ongoing for many years, they have serious traumas,” Sandoval said.

“Some of the kids could be equated to soldiers that have been through wars. The things that happen in their brain are very similar to people that go through hurricanes or tornados or tidal waves.

“When you have a tidal wave of emotional abuse every day, it’s going to build up in you, and your brain chemistry will change.”

Those children might exhibit certain, particular behaviors or reactions to the trauma of the abuse they have suffered, and often require treatment foster care, a higher level of care.

Training is provided to foster parents that is trauma-informed and trauma-based, using what’s called brain-mapping.

All foster parents are required to get annual training in regards to trauma-informed practices.

Placement stability creates education stability, and gives a child a sense of permanence in their community.

“They don’t lose their connections to their friends, they don’t lose their connections to their school,” he said.

Valencia County has 3.6 percent of the abuse and neglect investigations of children in the state, about 25 children for every 1,000 children in the county.

“Our biggest resource is our parents. Foster parents have really stepped up in this community,” Sandoval said.

There are several options for serving Valencia County’s foster children. To get a feel of what it could be like to foster a child, a family can offer respite services to parents who are fostering a child, or emergency placement.

Relatives of a child in the foster system can volunteer to foster the child until the parents are stable.

Adoptive homes take children who have been cleared for adoption.

If you are interested in learning more about foster parenting or would like to train to be a foster parent, email Doug Black at reevesd.black@state.nm.us or call him at 841-7890.

To report abuse or neglect call the hotline at 1-800-432-2075.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.