SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Data on child abuse in New Mexico has been called into question after lawmakers raised concerns that the former director of the state's child welfare agency provided inaccurate statistics.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports legislative committee staff has since found child abuse deaths in the state have more than doubled in the fiscal year 2020 from the previous year and the state has the second-highest rate of repeated child maltreatment in the nation.
In a memo last week, Legislative Finance Committee Director David Abbey said the state Children, Youth and Families Department also has struggled with staff vacancies and high turnover in key leadership positions and that agency oversight needs improvement.
The legislative review came after committee members raised concerns that the agency's former Cabinet secretary, Brian Blalock, provided inaccurate statistics at a July hearing.
According to Abbey's memo, Blalock reported child maltreatment rates were below national averages, but the committee's staff found rates that soared to nearly twice the U.S. rates between 2015 and 2019 when the state ranked 6th highest in the nation.
National data for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, when the state's rates dipped during the coronavirus pandemic, are not yet available. But the memo cited a likely decline in national numbers as well due to a lack of reporting as children remained isolated in their homes.
Blalock resigned in August amid a controversy centered on his department's use of an encrypted messaging app called Signal.
Blalock, who will be replaced by former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil, has said his reason for leaving was to support his wife as she pursues a new job opportunity.
Agency spokesman Charlie Moore-Pabst said in a statement that the department under new leadership will approach its work with transparency and accountability.
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