How Do We Solve Our Infant Care Crisis?

By Catherine Dry | Director, Santa Fe Baby Fund, Santa Fe Community Foundation | March 28, 2019

We live in an infant care desert in Santa Fe. As a community, we only have enough high quality, center-based child care for seven percent of the babies born in our city.

The Baby Fund, in close collaboration with the Infant Care Workgroup of Opportunity Santa Fe, conducted an analysis of infant care in Santa Fe using qualitative and quantitative longitudinal data. It painted a dire landscape.

Here are some of the major takeaways from the full report – A Critical Shortage: Infant Care in Santa Fe – and some proposed solutions to help meet this urgent and critical need.

A critical time for the brain

The early months and years of a child’s life represent a crucial period of brain development with more than a million neural connections produced each second during the first three years of life. Persistent stress diminishes the neurological architecture of the brain while positive, nurturing experiences promote it.

Investing early can pay off with returns on investments of up to 13 percent per child, per year through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment.

Fewer children, less child care

Since 2010, the population of children under age five has declined in Santa Fe (down 18%) and poverty for this same group has increased (up 4%). Out-of-state migration, declining birth rates, a sluggish economic recovery and a lack of affordable housing have contributed to the troubling reality that nearly one in three children in Santa Fe under age five lives in poverty.

Since 2010, Santa Fe has seen a 27 percent decline in total child care capacity, with a 31 percent decline in capacity for children under age two. Because there are so few child care options, families often rely on the informal network of providers, including family, friends and neighbors. This market remains mostly unregulated and low-income families bear the stress of navigating it.

Barriers for caregivers

Infant care is expensive for providers to offer due to high caregiver-to-child ratios and regulations that require high-cost renovations. For children under 12 months, one teacher can only care for (up to) four children, and the space must adhere to specific infrastructure requirements including exits, ratios of square footage to children, and sprinklers. Child care centers report that the cost of renovating an older space to suit health and safety regulations is too cumbersome and will never be recouped.

Lack of qualified staff

Additionally, across the country, child care centers are faced with a turnover rate of 30 percent for child care staff. Insufficient compensation is a key driver but lack of support from administrators, but teachers also leave the field due to lack of motivation and a sense of being undervalued. In Santa Fe, centers report difficulty finding teachers, let alone keeping them.

How we fix this

We need a tectonic shift in how we support infant care. The Baby Fund proposes a bold but attainable goal to double infant care capacity by 2023. And that begs the question: how do we get there?

We propose a five-prong solution:

  • Support the Workforce: Better prepared, well-compensated and supported teachers are the key to meaningful relationships with babies.
  • Support Home-Based Providers: We must support home-based providers to become registered and licensed in order to have more regulated care in our community.
  • Coordinate Public & Private Resources: By connecting the needs and resources from both the private and public sectors, we can create more infant care capacity and serve those most in need.
  • Advocate: Lasting change will only happen when state and federal policy prioritizes infants.
  • Build Public Awareness: By increasing awareness about the importance of the first years of life as well as the value of high quality, affordable infant care, we can draw attention and resources to the issue.

Although the data reveal a dire situation, we believe change is afoot. Consider this report a call to action – through coordinated efforts on many fronts we can help ensure that all babies are cared for in safe, nurturing and affordable environments. Please join us in making noise for babies!

Read the full report here

Sources

Jorge Luis García and James J. Heckman and Duncan Ermini Leaf and María José Prados, Quantifying the Life-cycle Benefits of a Prototypical Early Childhood Program (NBER Working Paper No. w23479, 2017.) Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2980587.

Jeffrey Mitchell, Jobs or People? What goes first? (Bureau of Business & Economic
Research, University of New Mexico: 2017).

Noriko Porter, High Turnover among Early Childhood Educators in the United States, (Washington State University, Department of Human Development: August 2012.)