FAQ About the Settlement

Why is the settlement groundbreaking?

The settlement is the first in the nation to develop a child welfare system that is based around the principle of understanding and responding to the impact of trauma experienced by children in foster care.  This state-of-the-art system of care will be fully integrated with the Medicaid system’s mental and behavioral health screening and service delivery.

Every child entering the foster care system is highly likely to have experienced multiple forms of trauma prior to being entrusted into the state’s care.  Medical and social scientists have firmly established that exposure to complex trauma deeply impacts brain activity, function and development, particularly in the developing brain of a child or young person.  When unaddressed, the neurobiological effects of trauma often result in predictable changes to numerous essential functions and life activities including behavior, emotional self-regulation, concentration, sleep, and cognition.  Institutions and systems that serve young people have lagged behind what we know about the impact of trauma on the brain. This settlement is the first to fully implement trauma-responsive principles across all levels of the child welfare system.  

The settlement is also the first to address the unique needs of Native children in foster care.  It will ensure that Native children have access to traditional ceremonies and that culturally responsive healing practices are promoted throughout the state.  It also realizes the protections of ICWA so that children are placed appropriately with their families and within their communities.

What are implementation targets and achievement targets?

The implementation targets are first steps—actions that will be taken by the end of 2020.  The achievement targets are the substantive objectives that the state agencies agreed to reach—for instance, increasing the number of placements available and making sure that children receive check-ups and screenings for trauma.  The Co-Neutrals will monitor and evaluate progress toward the implementation targets and achievement targets.

What is the implementation team? 

A team of lawyers from Public Counsel, Disability Rights New Mexico, Native American Disability Law Center, and Pegasus Legal Services for Children will be monitoring the implementation of the settlement agreement.

Who are the Co-Neutrals? 

The Co-Neutrals are three nationally-recognized experts in child welfare and health services reform.  Among them, they have expertise in both the child welfare and Medicaid systems and experience in both federal and state systems.  The result is a team of top national leaders who also know and understand New Mexico deeply. Their role involves evaluating the State’s progress toward the targets in the agreement and making sure that everyone has accurate data and information about the targets.  The Co-Neutrals are:

  • Kevin Ryan, Public Catalyst, Iselin, NJ
  • Judith Meltzer, President of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Washington DC
  • Pamela Hyde, Hyde & Associates, former Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department, Santa Fe, NM

The agreement also allows the Co-Neutrals to hire staff and consultants to work on the implementation process.

Is a court involved in the settlement process?  

The parties to the case will ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit and will also ask the court to enter ancillary orders described in the settlement agreement that will further the implementation process.  After that, the court will not be involved in the settlement process.

Any disputes that arise during implementation will be resolved out of court through arbitration.  The Hon. James Hall, a former New Mexico state court judge, will serve as the arbitrator. Any arbitration materials, including briefs and materials, will be made public on this website.

How long will the settlement agreement last?  

The settlement agreement doesn’t have a specific end date, but it will expire when the Co-Neutrals verify that sufficient progress has been made on all of the targets in the agreement.  The process for making this determination is described in detail in the agreement.

How can I share my experience, information, or feedback with the settlement team?

Contact information for the implementation team is here.

Can I share my experience, information, or feedback while remaining anonymous?

Yes. We will not share your identity outside our team without your permission, except if your email raises a reasonable suspicion that a child is being abused or neglected. In that case, we are obligated by the New Mexico Children’s Code to make an abuse and neglect report.

This page is maintained by Public Counsel. Contact us at nmfostercare@publiccounsel.org.

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