New Mexico Foundation spoke with Colleen Shaughnessy, Executive Director, and Valerie Alderette, Raton Programs Manager, at Youth Heartline in northern New Mexico about the vital work they do to improve stability and long-term outcomes for children and their families in Colfax, Taos, and Union counties.
Published Friday 07.07.2023.
Founded in 1991, Youth Heartline is a nonprofit in northern New Mexico that supports children in the New Mexico Eighth Judicial District (Taos, Colfax, and Union Counties) through Court Appointed Special Advocates programs (CASA), Safe Exchange and Supervised Visitation services (SESV), case management for families, and community programs focused on socio-emotional learning and engaging children in play and fun.
Youth Heartline launched their Safe Exchange and Supervised Visitation (SESV) program in Taos in 2014 and in Raton in early 2016. As the only SESV program in the northeastern Tri-County area, annually they serve around 500 individuals. SESV programs are a non-governmental social service contracted by the New Mexico judicial system, in which children of separated, high-conflict parents (often involving domestic violence and/or substance abuse cases) can fulfill court-ordered custody and visitation agreements in a safe, consistent, and monitored environment at a certified SESV facility.
In most cases, until Youth Heartline’s SESV services start for the family, the visiting parent does not have any kind of visits or contact with the child. Youth Heartline provides an alternative, safer, and more humane setting for these visits. Through their joy- and child-focused space, Youth Heartline Raton takes potentially tense and difficult interactions and instead provides a growth-focused environment that encourages positive parent-child interactions in the aftermath of turmoil and distress. This in turn sets up each child for long-term success by rebuilding trust within their families and setting parents up to play a larger and more stable role in the child’s life.
SESV is usually a court’s last resort when selecting legal visitation providers. Unfortunately, payment from the government for hosting these visits is not enough to cover SESV expenses, so the program always runs at a deficit. For the past two years, Youth Heartline Raton received grants from New Mexico Foundation’s Northeastern Regional Fund. The funds have been used to train program staff and cover salary expenses, support operational costs, and procure supplies and toys to improve the comfort and play time of participating children. NMF is honored to contribute to an often-overlooked yet vital service that is transforming the lives of rural children and their families throughout northeastern New Mexico.
In addition to SESV services, other programs Youth Heartline Raton run include:
- A Court Appointed Special Advocates Program (CASA), in which volunteers receive legal training to serve as a court advocate for youth in the foster system;
- A family navigation program in partnership with Taos Pueblo, that helps struggling parents connect with social resources. The program expanded to Colfax & Union counties in October 2022;
- Sponsoring a National Child Abuse Awareness Month campaign and multiple awareness events in Taos and Raton every April;
- And community-building and joy-centric events like art nights and dances. The most recent community dance saw around 150 children & family members in attendance!
Learn more about Youth Heartline’s work on their website at www.YouthHeartline.org,
New Mexico Foundation’s Northeastern Regional Health Fund was established to support organizations doing health-related work in the counties of San Miguel, Mora, Guadalupe, Colfax, Harding, Union, and Quay.
In 2022, the Fund awarded a total of $35,000 to seven organizations.