SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — In her first prepared speech Tuesday, the new leader of New Mexico’s child protection department pledges to restore the agency’s credibility following a series of scandals under her predecessor.
New Mexico Children Youth and Family Department secretary Barbara J. Vigil also promised to enshrine federal law prioritizing tribal members in adoptions of Native American children into the practices of her department and state law.
In an online speech to some 300 Native American child welfare advocates, the former state supreme court justice reiterated her promise to increase transparency and accountability at the agency, which handles child abuse and neglect cases, as well as foster care and adoptions.
“We must restore the credibility of CYFD,” Vigil told the audience of Native American leaders and child welfare caseworkers. She replaced former secretary Brian Blalock in August.
Blalock oversaw the department’s switch to an encrypted app that drew controversy over institutionalized use of a feature to erase messages, including those that may have been subject to record retention laws. Last month, the Legislature accused him of misleading them earlier this year with data that downplayed the severity of child mistreatment.
Vigil says New Mexico should enshrine the federal Indian Child Welfare Act into state law.
The act prioritizes tribal members in tribal adoption cases. Supporters say it honors federal treaties with tribes and prevents cultural extinction. Opponents suing on behalf of white adoptive parents say the law is racist. Supporters and opponents of the law have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the law.