By Ed Williams, Reporter | December 10, 2018
La Familia-Namaste, one of New Mexico’s largest private foster care companies, is closing its doors at the end of the year.
The closure comes on the heels of an investigation by Searchlight New Mexico revealing that the 30-year-old nonprofit failed to properly vet foster parents for past abusive behavior, placing children in environments that in some cases have led to severe child abuse.
La Familia-Namaste is one of 10 remaining companies in New Mexico that provide treatment foster care, a specialized type of foster care for children who have severe, usually trauma-related behavioral health needs. It’s the latest in a string of behavioral health organizations to fold in recent years, meaning yet another disruption in services for traumatized children.
Parents of children currently served by La Familia-Namaste — which also provides adoption, counseling and psychiatric services — say the company failed to notify them of the upcoming closure, leaving families scrambling to find vital services for their kids.
Kathy Spencer, an Albuquerque mother whose adopted son was receiving counseling services from La Familia-Namaste, discovered that he had lost his psychiatrist after his pharmacy was unable to obtain refills for his prescriptions. She made several unsuccessful calls to the company to find out what had happened, only to learn of the closure on Facebook.
It was the family’s fourth service provider to close in as many years, leaving her son once again without a psychiatrist.
“My child has been through many losses in his time,” said Spencer. “Now all of the sudden, without notice or a chance to say goodbye … for a kid who’s gone through lots of disruptions, that’s really hard.”
Kelly Curtis, interim director for La Familia-Namaste, acknowledged that the organization is closing and attributed it to unspecified financial reasons. Earlier this year the company was in the process of a merger with All Faiths, an Albuquerque nonprofit behavioral health agency; it fell through following revelations of safety lapses within La Familia-Namaste’s foster care operations.
All Faiths director Krisztina Ford, who was interim CEO of La Familia-Namaste during the failed merger, did not answer repeated requests for comment.
La Familia-Namaste’s closure will impact safety processes for foster homes managed directly by the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. The company has been an important partner for CYFD, earning over $1.6 million to conduct safety evaluations for state-run foster homes. Now CYFD will have to decide whether to do its own evaluations or outsource that responsibility to another company. CYFD spokesman Henry Varela did not answer repeated requests for comment.
Searchlight’s investigation, published in May, identified La Familia-Namaste as one of many treatment foster care companies that have repeatedly violated state regulations for protecting foster children.
Between 2015 and 2017, CYFD identified at least 28 instances in which treatment foster care companies broke rules on checking for abuse and neglect, at least 38 cases in which courts records were inadequately reviewed, and at least 91 instances in which documentation — academic records, medical records, the child’s history throughout the foster system — was either missing or incomplete.
Despite those widespread problems, CYFD has routinely renewed the license of La Familia-Namaste and other troubled companies.
In the past five years, only one company has had its license revoked by the agency. Familyworks Inc., a treatment foster care operation run by the for-profit residential youth treatment center Desert Hills in Albuquerque, was shut down by CYFD in August following revelations of ongoing sexual assault in one of Familyworks’ foster homes. Prior to the revelations, CYFD renewed the company’s license despite finding nearly 300 violations over a seven-year period.
Treatment foster care companies have been facing numerous problems internally as well, including lower reimbursement rates from Medicaid and private insurance and a shortage of qualified psychiatrists and nurse practitioners, according to George Davis, former director of psychiatry for CYFD.
“This is nearly an impossible environment to survive,” Davis said in an email. “La Familia-Namaste was probably the best of them, and there are not enough left to refer all the patients.”
La Familia-Namaste will be sending its current foster care clients to High Desert Family Services, a for-profit business based in Albuquerque. High Desert was formerly the New Mexico chapter of the MENTOR Network, a national for-profit chain that has been under scrutiny from Congress following repeated problems with safety and oversight, often resulting in child abuse.
Between 2015 and 2017, CYFD auditors found 23 safety violations in High Desert’s treatment foster care operations, citing the agency for failing to properly check for reports of abuse and neglect by foster families.
Representatives from High Desert also failed to respond to numerous requests for comment.