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March 2, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Just a quick update on the crisis in New Mexico over its failure to protect Omaree Varela, the nine-year-old boy who was kicked to death by his mother. As I’ve mentioned before, Omaree had come to the attention of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department and/or police, at least three times prior to his death last December.

In at least one of those cases, he had plainly been severely beaten by his mother. Omaree told his teacher she’d hit him in the head with a telephone and on the legs with a belt, and he had the welts to prove it. The teacher of course called CYFD and the police, but amazingly, the CYFD caseworker allowed the boy’s mother — Synthia Varela-Casaus, the woman who’d injured him — to sit and talk with him before the police arrived. That utterly flummoxed the police officer, particularly since Omaree changed his story after talking with his mother.

That made it all but impossible for the police to file charges against Mom, but CYFD could easily have relied on the teacher’s statement and taken Omaree into care. But they returned him to his mother who, a little over a year later, would kill him.

His death, plus that of Leland Valdez, a three-year-old boy who was known to be at risk living with his mother, Tabetha Van Holtz, have caused quite a stir in the New Mexico press, the legislature and the race for the governor’s office. At this point, not much of anyone is happy with CYFD... except CYFD. If the remarks of the Secretary of the Department, Yolanda Deines, are any indication, a couple of dead children won’t result in any changes to department policies. Read about it here (KRQE, 2/28/14).

Such, at any rate, is my conclusion from what she said for the first time, two months after Omaree was killed. But don’t take my word for it, you be the judge.

“I think that at any time you’re involved with a family and changes in circumstances throughout many years, there’s likely to be inconsistencies in the way that individuals deal with circumstances,” said Yolanda Deines.

While you’re at it, if you can, please explain to me what that means. I’ve read and reread it and have no idea of what Deines is talking about or how it relates in any way to Omaree Varela or Leland Valdez. After all, from what we know of Synthia Varela-Casaus, it was exactly the problem that circumstances didn’t change. She was beating the child years ago, this past December and in the interim. She seems to have been entirely consistent in her approach to childrearing.

The only thing I can glean from what Deines said is that the brass at CYFD have learned nothing, that they’ll continued to return children to obviously abusive mothers and hide behind bureaucratic gibberish the next time one of those kids ends up on a slab in the morgue.

The New Mexico legislature wisely allowed “Omarree’s Law” to die without a vote. Had it become law, that bill would have been a disaster for children, parents, CYFD and the taxpayers of the state. It would have required children with everyday cuts and bruises resulting from their normal activities to be taken into foster care for a minimum of 48 hours. That would have abused children who were in no way abused by their parents, vastly overburdened CYFD and upped state payouts for caseworkers and foster care by hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the very existence of a bill that was so obviously flawed, to say nothing of its passage by the House of Representatives, clearly show one thing — that the legislature and many voters are fed up with the incompetence of CYFD, as well they might be.

So it’s no surprise that Deines is hiding behind the skirts of Governor Susanah Martinez.

“The bottom line is, until the governor says I’m not doing the job she wants me to, I’m here and I will fight the good fight and keep working to keep kids safe.”

Deines doesn’t claim to be doing a good job or that her department acted properly in allowing a couple of little boys to be beaten to death. No, her “defense” of herself and her department consists of one sorry thing — political favoritism. She was hired by the governor and she’s going to hang onto her office — public sentiment be damned — until Martinez fires her.

That of course puts the ball squarely in Martinez’s court. Omaree’s death has already been raised as a campaign issue by her challenger, and Deines has now publicly stated that she’s here as long as the governor wants her. In short, she made herself a political football.

Will Martinez punt?

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#OmareeVarela, #YolandaDeines, #SusanaMartinez, #childabuse, #governor'srace

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