Attorney Rachel Berenson interviewed by KRQE News 13

KRQE News 13 recently interviewed our partner Attorney Rachel Berenson about the wrongful death case we are handling concerning James Dunklee Cruz, who died at the hands of his mother’s partner.

The 4-year-old died after a series of failures by New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD).

The CYFD has announced it will make changes in the light of the case, including:

  • Increasing staffing levels
  • Reducing caseloads
  • Overhauling training protocols
  • Creating new critical incident teams
  • Using a common sense approach, not just a checklist, when evaluating what’s next for a child

Are these false promises by CYFD?

While Attorney Berenson said she was hopeful that the CYFD would implement the changes, she noted that “Many of the changes that are in the report are very similar to changes that they’ve promised in the past.”

Attorney Berenson feels the CYFD has a culture problem

What made this case worse is that the CYFD tried to hide its mistakes. The boy’s caseworker testified the supervisors refused her recommendations to keep the child in custody, then when the boy was killed, deleted evidence to cover their tracks.

Attorney Berenson feels it needs an overhaul of senior CYFD staff to bring about the cultural changes that are essential for real improvement.

She also recommends that the CYFD do more to attract better-educated candidates, such as social workers. Not only do workers need to know how to help the children cope with the trauma they suffer, but they must also understand how to cope with its effect on them as the adults handling these challenging situations.

People will always make mistakes, and CYFD workers are no different. Yet organizations must implement systems to catch and rectify these mistakes before they lead to more tragic and needless deaths.

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