Gov. Martinez Pushes Legal Protection and Loan Repayment Program for Child Abuse Workers
ALBUQUERQUE -- Today Governor Susana Martinez announced two key initiatives to support Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) caseworkers who investigate child abuse and work with families in crisis. Governor Martinez says she supports legislation to establish specific legal protections for caseworkers from assault and battery, and a separate proposal that establishes a loan repayment program. CYFD Cabinet Secretary-designate Monique Jacobson joined Governor Martinez for the announcement.
“Our caseworkers do one of the toughest jobs around,” said Governor Susana Martinez. “Caseworkers put in long hours, often in the middle of the night, and make difficult judgment calls every day to keep children safe. These initiatives will help recruit, retain, and protect these dedicated professionals who are on the front lines in our continuing fight against child abuse in New Mexico. It’s not right that an umpire in a little league game is better protected against assault and battery than a child abuse caseworker.”
Under current law, it is a felony to commit assault or battery on paramedics, school employees, and sports officials like referees and umpires. However, assault and battery on a child abuse caseworker is not a specific offense, even though they routinely find themselves in stressful and potentially dangerous situations involving child custody and safety. HB 506, introduced by Representative Doreen Gallegos (D-Las Cruces) makes assault and battery of a CYFD caseworker its own specific crime and brings stiffer penalties.
“Our CYFD caseworkers provide such important services to our families and communities,” said Representative Gallegos. “These bipartisan bills provide opportunities to better support caseworkers and enhance their ability to keep children safe as they go about their challenging yet rewarding profession.”
HB 341, sponsored by Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-Albuquerque) seeks to establish a loan repayment program for eligible CYFD caseworkers. With the passage of this pending legislation and the availability of funding in future fiscal years, this bill provides targeted student loan repayment to eligible CYFD caseworkers over a minimum five-year period as long as that caseworker stays with CYFD during that period.
“The long hours and difficult decisions we expect of our dedicated CYFD caseworkers deserve our support,” said Representative Hall. “These proposals are important to improving the safety and retention of these dedicated public servants.”
This is the latest in a series of proposals from Governor Martinez to further support CYFD caseworkers. Caseworkers have received a 4% increase in base pay in the last fiscal year and will receive an additional 3% as a result of the budget for the current fiscal year. In 2013, the Governor also approved a general classification increase for CYFD investigators (resulting in a higher pay band), recognizing that the work they perform is at a higher level than what was called for under their previous classification. Building on these efforts, in 2014 Governor Martinez directed the State Personnel Office to implement a full reclassification of the Protective Services Division at CYFD, reforming the way in which caseworkers are hired and promoted, and bringing the salaries of all caseworkers into better alignment with competing employers and other states. CYFD now also provides higher pay to qualified applicants who are willing to serve as caseworkers in rural communities, where recruitment can be most difficult. And, the Governor had also directed an upward adjustment of 3 percent for all minimum starting salaries for newly hired caseworkers.