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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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After several investigations into procurement procedures, whistleblower lawsuits and personnel issues, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Children, Youth and Family Department (CYFD) Secretary Brian Blalock would be stepping down. The governor announced the appointment of retired NM Supreme Court Judge Barbara J. Vigil as the new secretary of the department.

Over the past few months, controversy surrounded the department as several investigations conducted by Searchlight New Mexico revealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by former CYFD contractors who raised questions about an app called Signal that CYFD used. The department was setting the app to automatically delete its Signal messages on a rolling basis, a likely violation of public records laws. Other investigations revealed controversies in relation to another app called Binti, which employees say held sensitive information for all CYFD cases, and which procurement procedures put in place were not followed by the department leadership for the multi-million dollar contract.

Vigil served on the state Supreme Court for nine years, with a brief stint as Chief Justice, before retiring this past June. She has been a long-time advocate for juvenile justice reform in New Mexico. Before serving on the Supreme Court, Vigil was a judge for New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court. During her time as a judge there, Vigil helped establish juvenile justice boards, which serve as a receipt for state and federal resources to create and sustain programs that benefit at-risk youth. 

“I’m incredibly excited to announce this transition in leadership. Justice Vigil is a tremendously talented, incisive and well-respected public servant who has a depth and breadth of experience few in our state can match,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “We are lucky to have her, and I’m very grateful to her for her willingness to step back into the arena and take on a challenging opportunity for the benefit of children and families of New Mexico.”

“I’m deeply humbled to have this incredible opportunity to continue serving our state,” Vigil said. “Throughout my career, I have tried to be a passionate advocate for the children and families of New Mexico. There is so much need. And the systems that serve them, as we all know, do not always meet those needs. I have observed first-hand in my professional career where those breakdowns occur, and I know we are capable, as a state, of marshaling the critical resources and compassion to create an environment where children and families have what they need to lead safe, happy, healthy lives. I’m grateful to the governor for her confidence in me, and I very much look forward to taking on this new and exciting leadership role.”

The governor thanked Blalock for his service during his with CYFD during the press conference. “He inherited an agency in disarray, with employees who had been sidelined and discouraged by an administration that did not prioritize or support this essential work. Under his leadership, the agency has made progress and implemented productive policies. I think we are in a great position, with CYFD, to build on the past two and a half years and move forward. I’m grateful to Secretary Blalock for his contributions to our state.”

Blalock cited his desire to relocate with his wife to California as one of the major motivations to step down from his position. Blalock served in the position for three years.

Vigil will begin work as secretary on October 1. Mariana Padilla, director of the state Children’s Cabinet, will serve as interim CYFD secretary.

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