Governor Signs CYFD Bill Tightening Dept. Personnel Procedures

CYFD Welcomes Tools Dealing with Employees with Substantiated Child Abuse Claims

04.08.2011

CYFD Welcomes Tools Dealing with Employees with Substantiated Child Abuse Claims

Española, NM -- Governor Susana Martinez today signed legislation that addresses cases in which Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) employees are found to have committed substantiated cases of child abuse. The bill, S.B. 574, will streamline the disciplinary process in such cases, giving the Department the ability to act more swiftly to discipline, transfer, or fire an employee with substantiated cases of child abuse.

"It is beyond irresponsible to allow individuals who have committed child abuse to work with children entrusted to the state’s care and supervision,” said Governor Martinez. “We must have a process in place that protects our children and allows CYFD to take swift action against employees who commit the very actions they should be working to prevent. Most employees are fully committed to their duties of keeping children safe, but unfortunately we have seen what happens when the bad ones slip through the cracks.” Martinez signed the bill in Española's CYFD Protective Services office, surrounded by agency caseworkers and employees.

Martinez and her point-person for child safety both say the Department needs to make sure that CYFD doesn't have staffers who have had abuse reports substantiated against them in a position of authority to make decisions about other abuse investigations. The bill Martinez signed today helps streamline personnel procedures so that CYFD can take action more quickly in such a situation.

"The vast majority of CYFD's employees and case workers are good, solid people who work hard everyday with a passion for protecting children. We are grateful for their service." says Yolanda Deines, Martinez's CYFD secretary. Deines has more than 30 years experience in child welfare work. "But sometimes there are situations where the Department needs to discipline employees up to the point of termination when our staff are themselves the subject of a substantiated child abuse investigation. We welcome this legislation and the additional tools it gives us to deal with people who should not be investigating cases of child abuse."

S.B. 574 addresses the rare occasion when a CYFD employee becomes the subject of an allegation of abuse or neglect that is ultimately substantiated after an investigation by CYFD’s Protective Services Division. The new rules provide a streamlined mechanism by which CYFD may take disciplinary action under the Personnel Act against such an employee. A classified employee who is the subject of a substantiated allegation of abuse or neglect has the opportunity to appeal that finding through CYFD’s administrative review and administrative hearing processes.

Where a substantiated finding is affirmed on appeal in a CYFD administrative hearing, the record of that hearing (consisting of an audio transcript and/or a written transcript along with all exhibits) may serve as the basis for employment discipline, in which case the State Personnel Board’s designated hearing officer may defer to such record in determining whether or not CYFD’s action was supported by just cause. CYFD will not be required to litigate the same issues twice in two separate forums: the initial CYFD administrative hearing and the subsequent State Personnel Office hearing.

"Our Children, Youth, and Families employees do a very serious job, and they do it well," says the bill's sponsor and author State Senator Nancy Rodriguez, (D-Santa Fe). Senator Rodriguez has represented the Santa Fe area since 1996. "But clearly there have been isolated cases where we needed to tighten the law. Specifically, we tighten the law dealing with the conflict that exists when a child abuse investigator, or a supervisor, has a child abuse substantiation against him or her. I worked closely with Secretary Deines and her team to craft a bill that will help the agency deal with these issues. I'm glad she takes this as seriously as I do."

CYFD has had a process in place since 2006 that ensures Department administrators are notified if an employee is being investigated for abuse or neglect. The system is triggered at the State Wide Central Intake point, when a report is initiated. Since Deines took the reigns at CYFD, the Department has been reviewing personnel policies and procedures to deal with issues like this one. Senator Rodriguez's legislation was an ideal opportunity to make substantive changes streamlining the labyrinthine personnel process. CYFD worked closely with Rodriguez to craft the language.

CYFD employees go through a rigorous background check when they are hired. The clearance level depends on the employee’s level of contact with clients; the more direct the level of contact, the higher the clearance level. Employees also go through another background check when they are promoted or transferred into a position where they will have direct client contact or will supervise employees with direct client contact.

The legislation preempts an employee’s right to progressive discipline in this limited situation in that the employee will not be entitled to raise a lack of progressive discipline as a defense to the severity of the employment action.

State Personnel Board (SPO) rules provide that employees should be entitled to progressive discipline. This means that in most circumstances, an employee may not be terminated on the first incident of employee misconduct, but should first be entitled to other forms of discipline before termination. Progressive discipline might consist of a letter of concern, to be followed by a letter of reprimand, to be followed by a three-day suspension, to be followed by a ten-day suspension, then finally, termination. Preempting the right to progressive discipline in this particular situation would allow CYFD and SPO to terminate in the absence of progressive discipline.

S.B. 574 takes effect on June 17, 2011, 90 days after adjournment. The bill is not retroactive.