HOUSE BILL 461
56th legislature - STATE OF NEW MEXICO - first session, 2023
Gail Chasey and Reena Szczepanski
RELATING TO CHILDREN; ENACTING THE CHILDREN'S AND FAMILIES' RIGHTS ACT; ENACTING THE CHILD WELFARE INNOVATION CENTER ACT; MAKING AN APPROPRIATION.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO:
SECTION 1. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] SHORT TITLE.--Sections 1 through 6 of this act may be cited as the "Children's and Families' Rights Act"."
SECTION 2. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S AND FAMILIES' RIGHTS--PURPOSE.--The purpose of the office of children's and families' rights is to provide independent and objective recommendations to the department to improve outcomes and well- being for foster children and to give a voice to children so that every child in foster care understands the child's rights and achieves the child's potential."
SECTION 3. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] DEFINITIONS.--As used in the Children's and Families' Rights Act:
A. "eligible adult" means an individual who meets the eligibility criteria for participation in the fostering connections program pursuant to Section 32A-26-3 NMSA 1978;
B. "grievance" means a complaint received by the department related to children and eligible adults in foster care and their families and resource families;
C. "independent" means the office has independence from the department to investigate grievances and complaints and to make findings and recommendations to the department; and
D. "office" means the office of children's and families' rights."
SECTION 4. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S AND FAMILIES' RIGHTS--CREATED--DUTIES.--
A. The "office of children's and families' rights" is created in the department.
B. The office shall:
(1) administer the children's and families' grievance process;
(2) provide mediation services for disputed grievances;
(3) provide navigation services for children, youth and families to assist with information sharing and guidance to the department's services;
(4) provide civil rights consultation on cases for referral to the department; and
(5) recommend improvements to systemic issues adversely impacting the department.
C. The office shall contract with a nongovernmental legal firm to provide an independent audit of grievance trends and the grievance process. By July 1, 2024, and by July 1 of each year thereafter, the contracted nongovernmental legal firm shall provide an annual written report that includes the number and type of grievances and complaints by region, outcomes of grievances by region and recommendations for legislative and other policy reforms.
D. An individual who files a grievance pursuant to the Children's and Families' Rights Act shall not be precluded from pursuing other legal or equitable remedies."
SECTION 5. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S AND FAMILIES' RIGHTS--OPERATIONS.--
A. The office shall:
(1) independently investigate and respond to grievances and complaints; and
(2) make findings and recommendations to the department.
B. All salaries and other expenses of the office shall be paid by the department.
C. The office shall promulgate rules for the effective performance of the office's duties."
SECTION 6. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] PROVIDER ADVISORY COUNCIL--CREATED--
A. The "provider advisory council" is created and is administratively attached to the office. The governor shall appoint the council to include representation from a cross- section of community service providers that support children and families through behavioral health services, child protective services and juvenile justice services.
B. The provider advisory council shall include seven members from the following service provider types:
(1) children's behavioral health;
(3) special education;
(4) domestic violence;
(5) family support;
(6) resource families;
(7) child advocacy centers;
(8) adult behavioral health;
(9) early intervention; and
(10) social work.
C. In appointing members, the governor shall ensure that the council reflects the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the state and represents differing geographic regions, including tribal, rural and urban areas.
D. The terms of membership of the council shall be staggered, with one-half of the members serving two years and the remainder serving three years for the initial term, and after the initial term, members shall serve two-year terms.
Members may serve up to two consecutive terms.
E. The provider advisory council shall:
(1) meet four times per year;
(2) review reports from the office;
(3) collect and communicate community service provider concerns and make recommendations regarding services provided under the direction of the department;
(4) provide recommendations to the department on:
(a) ways to improve New Mexico's child welfare system;
(b) related policies and procedures of state agencies;
(c) improving provider engagement;
(d) identified areas of improvement for service provisions;
(e) improvements in cross-agency collaboration;
(f) workforce development issues;
(g) identified assets and gaps in service delivery; and
(h) administrative barriers to accessing
provider services; and
(5) provide an annual report of all findings
and recommendations to the secretary of children, youth and
families and the office.
F. Members of the council shall receive per diem
and mileage as provided in the Per Diem and Mileage Act."
SECTION 7. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] SHORT TITLE.--Sections 7 through 12 of this act may be cited as the "Child Welfare Innovation Center Act"."
SECTION 8. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] CHILD WELFARE INNOVATION CENTER--CREATED--PURPOSE.--The "child welfare innovation center" is created as an independent center that seeks to strengthen the policies and practices that promote the well-being, safety and permanency of all children and youth. The center shall provide research-based, inclusive, culturally responsive, high-quality, outcome-based evaluations and solutions. The center shall use scientific approaches and evidence-based and evidence-informed practices to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of New Mexico's child welfare system at the local and state levels."
SECTION 9. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] DEFINITIONS.--As used in the Child Welfare Innovation Center Act:
A. "center" means the child welfare innovation center;
B. "director" means the director of the center;
C. "office" means the office of children's and families' rights; and
D. "resource family" means the person named on the license issued by the protective services division of the department or a licensed child placement agency who is authorized to care for children in foster care and includes foster parents and preadoptive parents."
SECTION 10. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] CHILD WELFARE INNOVATION CENTER--DESIGNATION--DUTIES.--
A. The department shall establish the center through a request for proposals process. The center shall have a primary focus on building system capacity to improve the well-being of and ensure vibrant futures for children, youth and their families and communities.
B. The center shall:
(1) advise the department to support, strengthen and enhance child welfare policies and practices;
(2) provide leadership for developing quality and performance improvement strategies and initiatives;
(3) conduct data-driven research and analysis of department programs and services and outcomes for children;
(4) recommend improvements to systemic issues impacting the protective services division and behavioral health divisions of the department;
(5) gather information from the department's current workforce to identify systemic workforce barriers and provide recommendations that will inform updates to the department's workforce plan;
(6) recommend improvements in legislative, administrative and fiscal state policy;
(7) collaborate with schools of social work to develop a pipeline of highly competent social workers specializing in public child welfare;
(8) appoint, compensate and hire staff and contract for services to carry out the purposes of the center; and
(9) advise the office on the operations, performance and strategies of the office in order to improve the rights of children, youth and their families.
C. By July 1, 2024, and by July 1 of each year thereafter, the center shall provide an annual written report for the prior calendar year that shall:
(1) include a summary of the center's findings and recommendations to improve the child welfare system at the state and local levels;
(2) be distributed electronically before July 1 of each year to the governor, the department, the interim legislative health and human services committee and the administrative office of the courts; and
(3) be posted on the department's website within ten days of the report's submission to the governor.
D. The department shall issue a response to the center's annual report no later than ninety days after the department's receipt of the report and a follow-up report six months later."
SECTION 11. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] DIRECTOR--QUALIFICATIONS--DUTIES--HIRING--CENTER STAFF.--
A. There shall be a director of the center who shall be the administrative head of the center and shall be devoted full-time to the duties of the center. The director shall be appointed by the entity that is chosen through the request for proposals process to establish the center.
B. The director shall have the following qualifications:
(1) a master's degree in social work and a current license pursuant to the Social Work Practice Act; or
(2) an active license to practice law issued pursuant to rules promulgated by the supreme court; or
(3) a master's degree in public policy, public health or the equivalent thereof; and
(4) at least eight years of child welfare experience with an emphasis on child abuse and neglect and its prevention.
C. The director shall hire staff to carry out the duties of the center, including the review of cases for the purpose of improving practice and procedure."
SECTION 12. A new section of the Children's Code is enacted to read:
"[NEW MATERIAL] CHILD AND FAMILY ADVOCACY BOARDS--PURPOSE--CREATED--MEMBERSHIP--DUTIES.--
A. The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires each state to create citizen review boards to meet quarterly and report annually on efforts to ensure that the state is following child protection requirements. There are created "child and family advocacy boards", the purpose of which is to examine specific cases to evaluate the extent to which the department is effectively discharging its child protection responsibilities.
B. Child and family advocacy boards are administratively attached to the center. The center shall provide appropriate staff and funding to support the child and family advocacy boards.
C. By July 1, 2024, and by July 1 of each year thereafter, child and family advocacy boards shall provide an annual report of all findings and recommendations to the secretary of children, youth and families and the director. The annual reports shall not contain confidential information.
D. Three child and family advocacy boards shall be established with five members per board appointed by the director. There shall be one board that shall review the department's compliance with the Indian Family Protection Act. A second board shall review critical incidents. The boards may review cases based on criteria established by the director.
E. Members shall serve three-year terms. The composition of each child and family advocacy board shall be broadly representative of the state and include members with expertise in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect, such as parents, custodians, guardians or former foster youth.
F. A person or a relative of a person employed by the department or a district court shall not be a member of a child and family advocacy board.
G. Each child and family advocacy board shall meet at least once per quarter to review cases designated in accordance with policies established by the director.
H. Child and family advocacy boards shall:
(1) conduct case reviews in accordance with the provisions of the Children's Code, the Abuse and Neglect Act and rules promulgated by the department; and
(2) give the parties in a children's court case under review notice of a child and family advocacy board meeting related to that case and afford the parties an opportunity to participate fully in the child and family advocacy board meeting.
I. Members of child and family advocacy boards shall receive per diem and mileage as provided in the Per Diem and Mileage Act.
J. As used in this section, "critical incident" means:
(1) a fatality, near fatality or serious bodily or emotional injury of a child who is in the custody of or receiving services from an executive agency or a constituent agency; or
(2) circumstances that result in a reasonable belief that an executive agency or a constituent agency failed in its duty to protect a child and, as a result, the child was at imminent risk of, or suffered, serious bodily or emotional injury or death."
SECTION 13. APPROPRIATION.--One million six hundred eleven thousand two hundred fifty-two dollars ($1,611,252) is appropriated from the general fund to the children, youth and families department for expenditure in fiscal year 2024 to implement the provisions of the Children's and Families' Rights Act and the Child Welfare Innovation Center Act. Any unexpended or unencumbered balance remaining at the end of fiscal year 2024 shall revert to the general fund.
SECTION 14. REPEAL.--Sections 32A-8-1 through 32A-8-7 NMSA 1978 (being Laws 1993, Chapter 77, Sections 203, 204 and 206 through 209, as amended) are repealed.
SECTION 15. EFFECTIVE DATE.--The effective date of the provisions of this act is July 1, 2023.
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