- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s former tourism chief said she is ready Monday to delve into much less picturesque areas as the newly designated head of the state’s child welfare agency.

Monique Jacobson said she is prepared for what is one of the toughest cabinet jobs.

“There’s no more important goal than taking care of these children and improving the quality of life for these children,” Jacobson told the Santa Fe New Mexican in a telephone interview (https://bit.ly/1AbBCzv ). “My true belief in that desire is going to get me through those tough times.”

Jacobson’s appointment as secretary-designate of the Children, Youth and Families Department was among a round of cabinet changes Gov. Susana Martinez announced last month.

Critics have questioned Martinez’s decision, saying Jacobson lacks any experience in child welfare and social work. State Sen. Michael Padilla, a Democrat from Bernalillo, grew up in the state’s foster care system. He said for Martinez to appoint someone with Jacobson’s lack of pertinent experience “reckless.”

“CYFD demands a leader that has specific training in social work, early education and assisting families in crisis,” Padilla said.

But Jacobson isn’t letting the criticism bother her.

“I respect their concerns, assuming that they’re coming from that really good place, which is caring for our children,” she said. “That’s the same place that my desire to do this job comes from.”

Jacobson says her corporate and leadership experience make her qualified. During her four-year tenure in the Tourism Department, she implemented the “New Mexico True” campaign and visitor spending in the state has increased. Before that, Jacobson worked in marketing at Frito Lay and PepsiCo.

“My background in large corporations and here at the Tourism Department has largely been about problem-solving to meet established goals,” Jacobson said. “Right now, that end goal is to improve the quality of life for children.”

Jacobson said she will also seek guidance from veteran staff members at the CYFD.

The agency has been wrought in recent years with staffing shortages, an overwhelming caseload and a series of high-profile abuse cases that have stirred an outcry.

The agency is in the midst of a massive reform effort aimed at changing the way child abuse and neglect cases are investigated. The reforms came about last year in response to the death of 9-year-old Omaree Varela of Albuquerque. According to police, Omaree was kicked to death by his mother in December 2013. Police and agency workers had investigated prior abuse complaints at the home before the boy’s death and one police visit was never relayed to the agency.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com

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