Caring for Caregivers

A happy baby at Elvira

Courtesy photo: A happy baby at Elvira’s home.

Supporting home-based childcare in New Mexico

By Calixte Raifsnider

Jamie Aranda is the mother to twin girls who were born premature. As a working mom, Jamie struggled to find childcare that would meet the unique needs of her daughters while also covering a full working day for her and her husband. She was relieved to connect with Lucia, who happened to have two open slots in her childcare home.

There are thousands of children in home-based care in Northern New Mexico. Despite the crucial role they play, these caregivers are often not recognized as part of the system. As Lucia puts it, “As providers, we give with love so that the parents can go to work with peace of mind.”

Home-based childcare (sometimes referred to as family childcare) is a type of care that features smaller groups of children in a residential setting. This care is often provided by a trusted friend, family member, or neighbor in the community. 

In working with Lucia, not only did Jamie find a reliable and attentive caregiver for her two girls, but she found that her daughters had a loving place to spend their days.

“It’s a great feeling to know our girls love to be there,” says Jamie, adding that often her daughters don’t want to leave when she picks them up.

So many parents—and especially those who work to juggle the demands of a career with the demands of raising a young child or children—appreciate the support of caregivers who enhance their children’s development and provide safe and loving care. Making sure these caregivers have the support they need has exponential benefits for every working family in New Mexico.

As childcare continues to be in an ongoing crisis, studies have demonstrated what most families already know: There is a clear connection between reliable child care and parental well being. In a June 2020 national survey, the American Journal of Pediatrics found a strong connection between pandemic-driven loss of regular childcare with deteriorating mental health for parents and deteriorating behavioral health for kids. And a 2022 study in the Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics found that access to child care may significantly ease parenting stress and even protect new mothers against symptoms of depression.

FFN caregiver Xochil speaks to the audience

Courtesy photo: FFN caregiver Xochil speaks to the audience.

As a response to this childcare crisis, in 2020 Growing Up New Mexico launched a program to support home-based childcare providers throughout the state. The goal was to find out what this large and underrepresented community of caregivers needed in order to keep doing their work and, ultimately, to grow and thrive. Growing Up New Mexico began with surveys and conversations in which providers could share needs, resources, and experiences with each other. These networks have continued and now feature information from experts in the field, professional development, and individualized coaching. Providers are paid stipends for their time participating as well as for other training to increase the quality of care or strength of their business.

Home-based childcare makes up a significant portion of the childcare industry. According to a National Survey of Early Care and Education, there are one million home-based childcare providers, caring for just under three million children from birth to age 5. Roughly 30% of all U.S. infants and toddlers are being cared for in these small groups in people’s homes.

In New Mexico, almost all of these caregivers are women, and a majority speak Spanish as their preferred language. Home-based caregivers are often experienced and trusted members of communities and neighborhoods. Growing Up New Mexico found through survey data that nearly half of the providers (48%) had more than ten years of experience caring for children.

On February 1, 2024, Growing Up New Mexico hosted a panel of Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) caregivers, attended by legislators and staff, local elected leaders, staff from the Early Childhood Education and Care Department (ECECD), early childhood advocates, and community members. The four childcare providers on the panel shared deeply moving and personal stories about their work caring for children in their communities. They also advocated for policy makers to continue to support families and childcare providers throughout the state.

The group highlighted their most critical needs through their own stories: Emphasizing the need for language equity, better wages, and less bureaucratic complexity. Many attendees in the room were deeply moved to hear the provider’s heartfelt experiences, from the challenges of getting licensed, to the way the caregivers spoke about the children in their care, and the families they relate to everyday.

Lucia, helping children down the slide

Courtesy photo: Lucia, helping children down the slide.

“I do it because I love children,” Lucia says. “I like to be a part of their development. I like to see them grow, and I learn from them, too.”

Because home-based care is provided in smaller groups, children receive more personalized, attentive care. Research has shown that young children’s attachment to loving and available caregivers who engage them in responsive relationships is crucial to healthy brain development and resilience.

Plus, home-based care is often provided during nontraditional hours, including evenings, overnight, weekends, and/or holidays. As another provider, Elvira, puts it, “Family childcare providers are flexible. If a mom says she needs care at 5 a.m., we open our doors.”

New Mexico has made incredible progress and emerged as a national leader in early childhood, with establishment of the cabinet-level ECECD expansion of Child Care Assistance, and continued state investment in early childhood initiatives made possible through the Early Childhood Trust Fund and Land Grant Permanent Fund. But there is still much work to be done and much support that is needed. Many providers who try to become licensed encounter barriers and confusion in state and local regulations. Also, resources and trainings are often not available in Spanish for a population that is largely Spanish speaking, and low wages continue to be a foundational issue.

Snack time in a caregiver's home

Courtesy photo: Snack time in a caregiver’s home.

In a 2019 Workforce Survey by Latino Decisions and Growing Up New Mexico, 85% of home-based care providers reported earning less than $30,000 a year. In 2023, New Mexico’s Child Care Assistance (CCA) rates increased and improved pay for the providers who are able to accept CCA. “We need wages that match the work that we do,” was caregiver Martha’s comment at the February panel discussion.

For all the ways that these home-based care providers care for the community, Growing Up New Mexico believes we owe them increased support and recognition.

As panelist Xochil Calix said to the audience, “This is our life. We are not well paid but we take care of children with love and with care.”

To learn more about home-based care, and how we can support home based care providers, you can go to the Growing Up New Mexico website: growingupnm.org/hbcc/

Calixte Raifsnider is the policy operations and communications manager at Growing Up New Mexico. She believes deeply in the power of community and is grateful to have the opportunity to support and uplift the voices of caregivers in New Mexico.

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