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State launches search tool to streamline families' child care search
The Santa Fe New Mexican - 11/15/2022
Nov. 16—State officials and advocates of early childhood programs are touting a new online search tool that aims to connect families across New Mexico with high-quality child care.
The child care search website launched Tuesday with more than 1,000 providers listed and matching services available in Spanish and English.
The website is a partnership between the state's Early Childhood Education and Care Department and online child care management company Wonderschool, Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky, said at Tuesday's virtual news conference announcing the launch.
Groginsky said the website will allow families to find, consider and communicate with child care centers online.
"We understand how overwhelming it can be when a family is trying to select a place for their child to be, sometimes as many as eight, 10, 10 1/2 hours a day," Groginsky said. "That's an important choice, and we want to make this as easy as possible for families."
State officials know the search for child care can be challenging for New Mexico families. Newly reelected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham listed ensuring access to affordable, quality child care as a "cornerstone" of her administration, but the state doesn't have sufficient child care supply to meet demand, Groginsky said.
Nationwide, child care employment remains 8.4 percent lower than pre-pandemic levels, according to the University of California Berkeley'sCenter for the Study of Child Care Employment. A 2021 survey conducted by local child and family advocacy organization Growing Up New Mexico found 57 percent of families said they needed "more" or "a lot more" child care.
Groginsky said the new child care search website is meant to make it easier for families to find available child care that meets their preferences and needs.
Here's how it works: After navigating to the site, families can tailor their searches for child care centers by the child's age, location, budgetary constraints, availability, scheduling needs and other factors, explained Mia Pritts, vice president of strategic partnerships at Wonderschool. From there, parents can apply to enroll, schedule a tour or message staff at a particular center.
"This starts that facilitation of relationship-building and information-sharing that's such a key component of an ongoing, responsive, collaborative relationship between parents and providers. We are really interested in helping bridge that gap between home and school," Pritts said.
While the site launched with more than 1,000 licensed child care providers across the state, Pritts said developers are working to add more, including those exempt from licensure.
The site is smartphone-enabled. Families without internet access or in need of a customized referral can access the finder's features through the Early Childhood Education and Care Department's resources and referral hotline at 800-691-9067.
Kate Noble, Growing Up New Mexico's vice president for policy and stakeholder engagement, said the search function could be a powerful tool. With strong engagement from child care providers, the new search option could ensure child care centers are able to fill open slots quickly with children who need care.
"In essence, the child care finder is a way for technology to grease the wheels of the matching that needs to happen between a family that needs care and a provider that offers care," Noble said.
However, the search feature doesn't — and can't — solve some of the bigger issues challenging the child care sector, including the lack of available care, Noble said.
Consistent efforts to address the child care shortage, including better pay and support for workers, will be required to ensure all families can find the child care they're looking for, Noble said.
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