State child welfare Secretary Barbara Vigil announces she is stepping down

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Apr. 13—New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Secretary Barbara Vigil announced Thursday she is leaving her post as head of the troubled child welfare agency, which critics say has been failing for years to accomplish its mission of protecting kids from abuse and neglect.

"My time at CYFD has been the culmination of a career working in both the judicial and the executive branches of government, always with a particular focus on the well-being of New Mexico's children and families," Vigil, a former state Supreme Court justice, said in a statement.

"I have as secretary built a strong foundation for an agency that is now ready to move into a really kind of bold transformational change," Vigil said in an interview Thursday. "And I think it's the right time to hand the baton over to the next leader to take the agency through that process."

Vigil said she felt her skills are better suited to working in an advisory capacity for the agency.

"I think I have a vision that is perhaps broader than the day-to-day decision making that needs to be had in overseeing an agency this large," she said.

Vigil, who served as a state district judge as well as a justice before being appointed to lead the child welfare agency in August 2021, is not leaving the fight entirely.

She said she will transition from heading the department to serving on a Policy Advisory Council that will make recommendations for improvements. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham created the council in February by executive order as part of her plan to overhaul the struggling department.

"I am profoundly grateful to Barbara Vigil for her legacy of service to the children of our state, especially for being such a stabilizing force for the Children, Youth and Family Services Department," Lujan Grisham said in the statement issued by the Governor's Office on Thursday. "I'm looking forward to continuing to benefit from her expertise in her new role on the Policy Advisory Council."

The statement said the governor will conduct a national search for the next Cabinet secretary of CYFD, who "must have experience in successfully pioneering major systemic reforms."

Teresa Casados, chief operating officer of the Governor's Office, will serve as the interim secretary.

"I do not step into this role lightly," Casados said in a statement. "The stories of the children in our care keep me up at night and surface-level changes will not suffice. We need long-lasting, fundamental changes to this system of care that deliver vastly better outcomes for New Mexico's children. I am committed to ramping up the rigor and driving outcomes until we identify a leader to continue our agency reform and transformation work."

The change in leadership comes after a legislative session in which lawmakers introduced dozens of bills aimed at reforming the department — which has an approximately $360 million annual operating budget and more than 1,500 employees — most of which failed to become law.

This is a developing story. Check back for more details.