By: Jyllian Roach, Editor-in-chief
Former Liberal Arts Major Mikki Browne said she thinks the Children, Youth and Families Department is in need of reform, and she plans to make it happen.
Browne said that after her two children went into foster care, she noticed that the system at CYFD seemed to be out of touch with its goal to help parents and keep kids safe.
“It seemed like if a parent had problems with drug or alcohol addiction, they go to rehab and a parenting class and have their kids back in three months. But if the parent was impoverished like me — if they had trouble finding a job or a home, then it would be at least a year,” said Browne.
Browne said that her plan is to speak with local and state representatives, including Governor Susana Martinez, and create a plan that would reform CYFD so that families can be reunited when the problem stems from poverty rather than abuse or neglect.
Several call made to CYFD over a two day period were not returned.
Browne said he trouble with CYFD began in Jan. 2010, when her pipes froze because of the cold weather, causing her furnace to break.
Without heat or running water, Browne said she purchased water from a local grocery store for bathing and cooking.
The situation took a toll on her daughter, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and Reactive Attachment Disorder — a rare condition that makes it difficult for children to form bonds with others and can cause destructive outbursts, said Browne.
Her daughter had a loud and long-lasting outburst that caused concern among Browne’s neighbors, she said. Soon, CYFD and APD came to her door.
When APD learned there was a problem with the water and furnace, a city inspector was called in, she said.
The city inspector found a much bigger problem — the frame of the house was rotting.
“They told me the house wasn’t safe — my kids could not be there, I couldn’t be there. They said my cat shouldn’t even be there,” said Browne.
CYFD took Browne’s children on a 48 hour hold, she said.
A 48 hour hold is the placement of a child in a licensed foster home while CYFD decides if there is cause to believe a child may be abused or neglected, according to the CYFD glossary of terms on the New Mexico Department of Health website.
“It was the worst day of my life. My kids were with me and then they weren’t,” she said.
Browne said she could not find a new residence in just 48 hours, so CYFD petitioned the children’s court to open a civil case, she said.
Browne’s children were put into the foster care system and Browne began the long process of trying to bring her kids home, she said.
“In the beginning, it seemed like I would get my kids back and that the department would help me find a house, but that’s not what happened,” said Browne.
Browne said her children were in state custody for two years; she did not have a suitable home because she could not find a job that paid her enough for an apartment while also doing everything CYFD had asked her to do.
“Five days a week, I was doing something for the case. But then we’d attend a hearing, and it wasn’t enough because I still didn’t have a place to live,” she said.
In January 2013, Browne said she relinquished her parental rights, because she felt like she could not find a home for her and her children without more help.
Browne has not spoken to her son since Christmas, and her daughter since before that, she said.
“There are some people out there that do abuse their kids. There are parents out there that neglect their kids because they have an addiction or because they don’t want to be a parent. So CYFD has an important job, but the system needs to be reformed,” she said.
Browne said the stigma has also been difficult to deal with.
“Usually I get: ‘Well, if this has been going on for so long, they must have found something.’ Everyone just assumes that the system is perfect and it’s not,” she said.
Browne said that she wants CYFD to do the job of protecting kids better, and to help families who are just in a bad situation like she was.
“If you’re poor but you pour your heart and soul into your kids, you’re a good parent,” said Browne.
Other parents who believe that CYFD need reform are welcome to contact her to aid in the effort, she said. Browne can be contacted at mikki. firstname.lastname@example.org.