Governor announces new Cabinet secretary
SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday announced a new member of the state Cabinet:
- Barbara J. Vigil, recently retired senior justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and long-time advocate for juvenile justice reform, as secretary of the Children, Youth and Families Department.
Vigil will relieve Secretary Brian Blalock, who is stepping down this month to support his wife’s pursuit of new work opportunities in California.
“I’m incredibly excited to announce this transition in leadership. Justice Vigil is a tremendously talented, incisive and well-respected public servant who has a depth and breadth of experience few in our state can match,” said Gov. Lujan Grisham. “We are lucky to have her, and I’m very grateful to her for her willingness to step back into the arena and take on a challenging opportunity for the benefit of children and families of New Mexico.”
Vigil, 62, has worked as a judge and lawyer in New Mexico for more than three decades, in that time ascending to the state’s highest court and earning the respect of colleagues in the legal community and in public service more broadly for her diligence, dedication and breadth of experience. Elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2012, she served with distinction for almost 9 full years, including a stint as Chief Justice, before her retirement in June. Prior to serving on the high court, she was a judge in the First Judicial District Court beginning in 2000, presiding over more than 16,000 cases over 12 years and playing an instrumental role in the establishment of juvenile justice boards — which serve as a vehicle for the receipt of state and federal resources to create and sustain many critical social programs for at-risk youth. She also presided over Children’s Court for a decade, advocating for improved systems to meet the critical needs of New Mexico children and families. Before her time as a judge, Vigil worked in private practice. She earned a degree in accounting from New Mexico State University and her law degree from the University of New Mexico.
“I’m deeply humbled to have this incredible opportunity to continue serving our state,” Vigil said. “Throughout my career I have tried to be a passionate advocate for the children and families of New Mexico. There is so much need. And the systems that serve them, as we all know, do not always meet those needs. I have observed first-hand in my professional career where those breakdowns occur, and I know we are capable, as a state, of marshaling the critical resources and compassion to create an environment where children and families have what they need to lead safe, happy, healthy lives. I’m grateful to the governor for her confidence in me, and I very much look forward to taking on this new and exciting leadership role.”
Blalock has served as secretary since the outset of the Lujan Grisham administration, during which time the department drastically reduced its investigatory backlog, focusing on the successful completion of timely and high-quality investigations to ensure child safety and wellbeing. Among other initiatives, Blalock and CYFD implemented new safety measures to prevent child fatalities and put in place new protocols that resulted in a significant increase in kinship care, prioritizing keeping children with family or tribal community members whenever safe and feasible to do so. Under his leadership, CYFD worked through the challenging circumstances of the pandemic to provide food, housing, and mental health services to New Mexicans across the state, delivering more than 2.6 million pounds of food and providing more than 47,000 nights of shelter all across New Mexico.
CYFD on Monday published a progress and impact report highlighting the agency’s work as well as a Fiscal Year 2021 “360 Report” drilling down to the county level on some of the data referenced in the progress and impact report.
“I’m honored to have had the chance to serve the families and children of New Mexico,” said Blalock. “In close to three years, we have built structures and processes to turn CYFD around and made real progress in rebuilding the children’s behavioral health delivery system, increasing placement stability for our youth in care by prioritizing relatives and in-state community homes and establishing new safety measures so our child welfare system is intervening at the right time and in the right ways. The result is a CYFD that is better supporting children and families and increasing their safety and overall well-being. While I have loved my time and work in New Mexico, the pandemic has made it clear to me the importance of being close to family. My wife has an incredible career opportunity to go back and lead the advocacy organization where she first started her career and to be closer to our family, and I will be there to support her. I know the diligent workers of CYFD will continue to make incredible efforts day in and day out for the benefit of this state.”
“When Brian agreed to take this role, my expectation and hope was that an expert set of eyes from outside of our system would be the right ingredient to help move the ball forward for New Mexico children and families,” the governor said. “He inherited an agency in disarray, with employees who had been sidelined and discouraged by an administration that did not prioritize or support this essential work. Under his leadership the agency has made progress and implemented productive policies. I think we are in a great position, with CYFD, to build on the past two and a half years and move forward. I’m grateful to Secretary Blalock for his contributions to our state.”
Vigil is scheduled to begin work as secretary Oct. 1. Mariana Padilla, director of the state Children’s Cabinet, will serve as interim CYFD secretary after Blalock’s departure.