Funding for Highlands University School of Social Work Supports Child Well-Being in New Mexico

Dr. Cristina Durán

Dr. Cristina Durán poses beside a plaque honoring Facundo Valdez.

August 30, 2022

The New Mexico Highlands University Facundo Valdez School of Social Work receives $1.6 million in federal funding annually through Title IV-E. The grant is issued in three-year cycles, and on July 1, 2022, Highlands University renewed its regular Title IV-E funding for the beginning of another three-year cycle.

Title IV-E funding is earmarked for training social workers in New Mexico to work in child welfare. Both undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a social work degree can participate in the Children, Youth, and Families Department (CYFD) stipend program, which helps to cover students’ educational costs in exchange for an agreement to work for CYFD following graduation.

Dr. Cristina Durán, former Dean of the Facundo Valdez School of Social Work, oversaw the Title IV-E grant until her retirement from NMHU in July of this year. Durán said the main purpose of the funding is “to increase the number of Social Work graduates trained in child welfare, as well as to prepare and qualify social workers to fill positions in child welfare agencies in New Mexico.”

To receive the funding, NMHU is required to match the funds the School of Social Work receives, which they have done for almost 20 years. Durán said the money is vital in supporting the School’s operating budget, including faculty salaries and the ongoing CYFD stipend program, which supports up to 32 students annually.

“About $380,000 of that 1.6 million received annually is dedicated to student stipends, and the stipend program is a very important way to recruit and train social workers who will work in child welfare,” Duran said. “Bachelor’s students receive $11,000 a year, and master’s students receive $12,000 a year, and that covers tuition. Anything that remains is disbursed to students throughout the semester to cover their other expenses.”

Durán said the students who participate in the stipend program are required to complete a field practicum with CYFD while they are in school, and for every year of the stipend program they participate in, students commit to working for CYFD for 18 months upon graduating.

“So, they have a job waiting for them when they graduate,” Durán said. “The stipend program is a prominent feature of our Title IV-E funding.”

According to the Kids Count report, released each year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, New Mexico ranks last in the country for child well-being. This ranking is based on four factors: child poverty, education, health, and family and community. In New Mexico, 26 percent of children live in poverty.

“Ensuring the safety and well-being of children in New Mexico is a major issue and it’s tied to the high poverty rate that exists in the state,” Durán said. “High rates of poverty impact the well-being of families and impede the ability of families to provide adequately for their kids.”

Durán said CYFD is known for strengthening families and helping kids have better outcomes while working under extremely challenging conditions. The agency provides many different services and programs to address complex and multifaceted family challenges.

Like many social service organizations across the state, CYFD often faces a shortage of qualified employees. According to Durán, the stipend program provides to CYFD highly trained NMHU graduates with degrees in social work, minimizing the number of caseworkers lacking a social work education.

“We’re best positioned to really make an impact on child welfare services in New Mexico because of our curriculum and training,” Durán said. “I want our Facundo Valdez School of Social Work to contribute to the strengthening of the workforce and CYFD because we need the best social workers we can find at CYFD. And these families deserve the best.”

The Highlands University School of Social Work was named for Facundo Valdez, who co-founded the school in the 1970s. Valdez grew up in Mora, and, in addition to his social work career, he was known for his community organizing, activism, and mentorship. Durán said the School has retained its strong roots and is among the strongest social work programs in the state. She joined the School in 1991 and retired this year after thirty-one years. Durán said Interim Dean Dr. Judy Barnstone will be overseeing the Title IV-E grant funding until a new Dean is selected.

“Dean Duran was an exceptional leader at Highlands University and brought many innovations to the Facundo Valdez School of Social Work,” said Highlands University President Sam Minner. “Everyone here wishes her well in the next phase of her life.”

Those who wish to learn more about the CYFD stipend program can contact Felicia Martinez, CYFD Stipend Coordinator, at frmartinez@nmhu.edu, or Sharen Maldonado, Administrative Assistant for the CYFD Stipend Program, at skmaldonado@nmhu.edu.