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By Estefany Carrasco-González, Gabriela Gómez and Sarah Raine Cheney
How collaboration in Santa Fe community addresses the drought in infant care.
As New Mexico struggles to address our low rankings in childhood well-being, early childhood education and, particularly, access to affordable infant care, the reality is that within Santa Fe we live in an infant care desert. We do not have enough high-quality, licensed childcare providers and centers to serve more than a small percentage of infants who need it.
In fact, the 2019 report “A Critical Shortage: Infant Care in Santa Fe,” issued by the Santa Fe Baby Fund of the Santa Fe Community Foundation, found our city has only enough high-quality, center-based care for about 7 percent of babies. That forces many working parents to rely on family, friends, neighbors and others, a largely unregulated market of providers who have varying levels of safety compliance or knowledge of early child development.
What can be done to address this ongoing shortfall? The Santa Fe Community Foundation has created two important initiatives out of a conviction that the vitality of society rests on the opportunities afforded to all children early in life: the Santa Fe Baby Fund, and Opportunity Santa Fe: Birth to Career. Together, they have been investing in local nonprofits and supporting them to engage in collective efforts to improve the lives of children and families.
The Santa Fe Baby Fund began in 2013, with an initial gift of $1.1 million from the Brindle Foundation, a private family foundation based in Santa Fe. It promotes the healthy development of babies and toddlers in Santa Fe County through programs and reports that raise awareness of the importance of investing in early childhood and grants to nonprofit organizations working to promote the healthy development of babies and toddlers.
The “Critical Shortage” report provides valuable detail behind the general awareness that infant care is expensive. State regulations require providers to meet higher caregiver-to-child ratios for babies and toddlers than for older children, as well as strict safety requirements that may require costly renovations. While these regulations undoubtedly improve the quality of care for our most vulnerable children, many working families are priced out of infant care at the going market rate — which the 2018 survey conducted by the Santa Fe Baby Fund found to be in the range of $927 to $1,200 per month for private, center-based care.
Yet while infant care costs are rising, the supply is declining. In 2018, Santa Fe had only 66 licensed child care sites and four registered sites, down from 80 licensed and 63 registered sites in 2010. We have only three center-based programs — Kids Campus at Santa Fe Community College, La Petite Academy and Early Head Start — with a capacity for about 92 children under 12 months old. This drop appears to be an unintended consequence of changes to the process by which providers register with the state and become qualified to receive child care assistance for low-income families and federal food reimbursements. These changes have set higher standards for health and safety, but also raised the cost to providers of compliance with the regulations.
The quantitative and qualitative information outlined in the “Critical Shortage” report has led to a wider understanding of the challenges our families face and how we as a community can better support them. As a result, Opportunity Santa Fe (OSF) invests in and supports the Early Childhood Steering Committee (ECSC) and Santa Fe ¡Convive!, two collaborative working groups composed of nonprofits and other key stakeholders, offered through the Santa Fe Birth to Career Initiative. Through OSF support, the ECSC was able to expand classrooms for early pre-K and pre-K at the United Way Early Learning Center at Kaune, train 40 early childhood educators and hold a hiring fair for early childhood staff vacancies. In spring 2019, the ECSC supported Senate Bill 22, which resulted in the newly established state Department of Early Childhood Care & Education, an exciting win for New Mexico. ¡Santa Fe Convive! takes a holistic approach by focusing on families and connecting them to the many resources available in the city, such as nutrition courses, Medicaid 101 and information on other assistance programs.
“Finding affordable and high-quality infant care is essential for parents to not only go back to work but find time to meet their own needs,” says Antoinette Villamil, co-leader of ¡Santa Fe Convive! and the executive director of Many Mothers, which provides families 36 hours of free, hands-on support after the birth or adoption of a new baby. “It’s essential that parents, particularly new moms, can find time to rest and recharge from the 24-hour demand of caring for young babies.”
State and federal policymakers have shown an increasing interest in early childhood education in recent years, but that support is often directed to 3- and 4-year-old care. A stronger commitment to improve access for families of children from birth to 3 years of age is still needed. Moving forward, the Santa Fe Baby Fund and Opportunity Santa Fe plan to work together with partner organizations to align investments in support of increased infant care options.
How You Can Help
Visit santafecf.org/give-now and designate your gift to the Santa Fe Baby Fund and/or Opportunity Santa Fe. Donations of all sizes are welcomed and encouraged. One hundred percent of your charitable contribution will be applied to programs supporting New Mexico children and families.
Apply for a Baby Fund Grant
The Santa Fe Baby Fund awards grants to nonprofit organizations working to promote the healthy development of babies and toddlers in Santa Fe. The 2020 Baby Fund grant cycle opens Feb. 4, with applications due by March 9. Awardees will be notified by early June. The application information will be posted on Jan. 1, 2020 at santafecf.org/nonprofits/grantseekers.
Sign up for the Santa Fe Community Foundation’s eNews to receive current updates on their work and upcoming community events: santafecf.org/sign-up-for-email.
A downloadable PDF of “A Critical Shortage: Infant Care in Santa Fe” is available at santafecf.org. For a print copy and for additional information on how you can help improve child well-being in our community, contact Estefany Carrasco-González at email@example.com or (505) 988-9715.