Groups gauge interest in employer-sponsored child care options in Santa Fe | Education

About 230 children are lining up for services at Kids Campus, a preschool and child care center at Santa Fe Community College.

Applications continue to pour in every day – from university staff, students and the wider community.

Director Deyanira Contreras said the waiting list for the program, which has a capacity to serve 120 children ages 2 months to 5 years, is a damning sign that the high demand for services for young children in Santa Fe exceeds by far what is available, especially as parents return. to work in person after two years of unemployment or remote jobs.

“We have a group of people who are trying to get back to normal a bit, who are no longer working from home,” Contreras said. “More spots are opening up in person, so we’ve definitely noticed that has increased our waitlist requests.”

A 2021 survey by local nonprofit Growing Up New Mexico found that 57% of families with children under age 5 need more care for their children.

The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce says this high figure shows that child care remains a major obstacle to rebuilding the local workforce and an economy shattered by COVID-19.

“While all of these businesses are opening up, they are still struggling to find workers,” said Bridget Dixson, president and CEO of the chamber. “The main reason companies are having these difficulties is the lack of childcare services.”

While preschool and daycare services throughout the city remain scarce, with some centers having closed permanently in the past two years, Growing Up New Mexico and the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce are joining an effort to involve employers in filling gaps, especially in industries with non-traditional hours like tourism and healthcare.

The two groups recently launched a survey of employers to gauge interest and demand for possible services such as on-site childcare for workers or employer-supported childcare, in which workplaces would provide funds to cover childcare costs for workers.

The survey asks employers if they have been affected by the shortage of childcare services, what steps they could take to meet the needs of workers, what types of services workers need and how much they could offer to an employee to cover preschool or daycare tuition.

Dozens of companies have already responded, said Kate Noble, a Santa Fe school board member who works as Growing Up New Mexico’s vice president of policy and stakeholder engagement.

The survey is intended as a first step toward engaging businesses to help meet child care needs in the city, Noble said.

Dixson said she is not aware of any private sector employers who provide childcare assistance or services. She and Noble believe that educational institutions lead the way.

In early April, Santa Fe Public Schools announced it would pilot an employee early childhood center in August, when teachers and staff return from summer vacation. The center, with 44 open spaces for children, will be housed at Ramirez Thomas Elementary School and will be open from 7:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Children of teachers will be given preference, with 70% of time slots offered to educators with children aged 12 months to 3 years; the remaining 30% will be open to other district staff at a cost of $150 to $250 per month.

At Kids Campus, approximately 30% of slots are reserved for children of students or campus employees and the rest are up for grabs.

Contreras said the benefits of onsite care for workers are many.

“By having their childcare here, they can come back after their maternity leave,” she said of her own employees, four of whom have their children enrolled at Kids Campus. “Having the same schedule as their children is really great.”

When employees don’t have to scramble to get their kids looked after, Noble said, absenteeism and instances of distracted workers tend to go down.

“It’s been a problem for businesses for a long time,” she said. “This is not a new subject, but the urgency has increased due to the pandemic.”

About 80% of local businesses in the city have fewer than 10 employees; Dixson said this increases the need for access to child care.

“When you have a retail store with two or three employees and someone has a sick child or can’t work one night…they really feel it,” she said.

Small businesses may need to come together to create joint employer-based centers or consider other ways to support employees with childcare needs, Dixson added.

Providers in particular cite a strong demand for child care and programs available for children after hours.

Margo Moriarty discovered an unmet need for such services when she could not find appropriate care for her own family when she planned to return to teaching. In response, she started a local business, the HoliTOMoli Holistic Arts Academy on Alto Street, for infants and children up to 6 years old.

In addition to offering programs for toddlers and preschoolers, she has three slots available for infants and said they are always in demand. It is keeping its capacity for infants low to improve the quality of care, she added.

“Infant care is really, really needed,” Moriarty said. “It’s hard to run an infant program.

All the money her company makes for providing infant care goes directly to staff members who are qualified to care for multiple babies at once.

Contreras said infant care is also in high demand at the Kids Campus. The center can only register 16 infants at a time, while the number of infants on the waiting list has increased to more than 100.

“As soon as they find out they’re pregnant, they fill out an application,” she said of expectant parents who want to enroll their babies in the Kids Campus program.

The New Mexico Department of Early Childhood Education and Care, which oversees the state’s child care assistance program, used federal pandemic relief funds in July to dramatically increase parental income eligibility, raising the cap to 350% of the federal poverty level – or about $93,000 for a family of four.

While the change puts childcare within the reach of many more families, Contreras said, it could also be a reason that demand for childcare has increased and providers are unable to meet childcare needs. ‘answer to.

Santa Fe Councilwoman Jamie Cassutt, a single mother, hopes the new initiative by the Chamber of Commerce and Growing Up in New Mexico will help increase child care options for local parents, especially those who work. in industries with late shifts, such as city service industry.

“Tourism is one of the main economic drivers for our community,” Cassutt said. “If we think about people working in the service industry, they don’t work a 9 to 5 schedule.”

It’s not immediately clear what role the city might play in the initiative, Cassutt said, but it’s ready to support proposals that emerge from the survey results.

Cassutt advocates a measure that would allow child care centers — the city identified 37 licensed facilities at a recent Planning Commission meeting — to expand capacity beyond six children without having to obtain a special-use permit. This would allow more children to attend home-based centers and those affiliated with religious institutions, she said.

The city council will also consider using federal pandemic relief funds to establish a work-study program with Santa Fe Community College that would allow preschool students to enter preschool classes earlier and help centers to meet state staffing requirements.

“There’s no single organization that can solve this problem, and there’s no silver bullet,” Cassutt said. “It’s really going to have to be a concerted and collaborative effort.”