Day-care dilemma

Sabrina Prucey of Clovis cares for infants at ABC Child Development Center. Prucey has worked at the center for about a year. CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Emotional mothers desperate for child-care pleaded with Christy Masterson on a daily basis.

“I was flooded with calls. I would get phone calls from people crying that they did not have day-care,” Masterson said.

The former home child-care provider turned down lots of families seeking her service. She just didn’t have the space.

She left the business last spring to give her two young children more attention. However, the calls keep pouring in, she said.

Eastern New Mexico does not have enough infant day care providers to meet the needs of its residents, and neither does the state, according to officials with the Children, Youth, and Families Department.

The special needs of infants coupled with the limited financial rewards of the job have made finding care difficult throughout New Mexico, and the nation, for years, according to CYFD officials.

The state agency registers and gives licenses to child care providers in the state.

“You have to be in child care because you care about the welfare of children. You will not get rich doing it,” CYFD Director of Communications Deborah Martinez said.

With scarce care options for their babies, some mothers have been forced to stay at home, missed job interviews or lost jobs, Masterson said.

In Clovis and Portales, only five child-care centers accept infants, according to Michelle Terry, director of the Eastern New Mexico Child Care Training and Technical Assistance Center in Portales.

“There is not a lot of choices,” Terry said.

All five centers are at or near capacity. Families seeking care for infants are added to long waiting lists, which range in volume from 20 to 30 babies, center providers said.

Infants can idle on the lists for months, providers said.

At Barbara Ann’s Child Care Center in Clovis, some infants have been on the waiting list for five months, according to center director Irene Roybal.

Officials at child-care centers say they don’t have the room or the resources to expand.

To operate legally in the state, centers must have one caregiver for every six infants.

In Curry and Roosevelt Counties, 375 homes are registered and 164 are licensed to provide home-care for children, according to CYFD officials. But the bulk of them do so for family members, Terry said. According to her figures, less than 1 percent of those homes are accepting infants, she said.

State requirements for registered home child-care providers are minimal, while icensed providers are governed by a list of state requirements and are eligible for state financial and technical assistance.

In homes, providers must obtain a special license to care for more than two children under the age of 2. However, no more than four children under the age of 2 can be cared for, according to state laws.

Such laws lend uniformity to child care in the state and also ensure the welfare of children, Martinez said.

At Cannon Air Force Base, two child care centers serve 130 military families. The centers are not at capacity, but there are waiting lists for care on base, according to Denise Vanderwarker, the supervisor of family member programs at Cannon.

Currently, the list has 36 children on it, although 15 have not yet been born, Vanderwarker said. Only four are infants or toddlers, according to Cannon officials.
Fourteen home child-care providers are affiliated with Cannon, most whom live on the base, Vanderwarker said.

“We have always been very fortunate here at Cannon. We’ve always had a very slim waiting list (for child-care),” she said.

Vanderwarker said the majority of families on their waiting lists have found care elsewhere, but would prefer care at the base. The centers are the only accredited child-care centers in Clovis and Portales, according to Vanderwarker.

“Eventually,” she said, “we hope that (others) will be accredited, but it takes time, a lot of money, and it takes dedication.”

“Parents would like to have more options, maybe closer to their homes,” she said.
Accreditation in the state can be achieved through an array of associations, CYFD officials said.

Last year, CYFD launched a rating system for providers.

“We designed the star system to be a stair step up, so to speak, to accreditation,” said Dan Harris, CYFD deputy director for early care.

Child-care providers who meet the most requirements receive a five star rating. Most child care centers in eastern New Mexico hang at the one- or two-star level, according to Vanderwarker.

CYFD also has sloped financial incentives for providers who meet more state requirements.

The state plans to give more money Thursday to providers who comply with CYFD standards for care. Such standards encourage low caregiver-to-child ratios, well-furnished play areas, and a high level of parental involvement, CYFD officials said.

Child-care providers who attain a five-star level stand to receive an additional $120 per month per child from the state.

Based on feedback from providers, minor tweaks in regulations will also take effect Thursday, CYFD officials said.

Many home child-care providers, however, are reluctant to even pursue licensure, according to Masterson.

“I don’t know why,” Masterson said.

“We need to get interested in home day-care,” the mother said.

“It is a home day-care, but it is not baby-sitting. It’s more like pre-school,” she said. “The rewards are incredible.”

Martinez understands state regulations can intimidate some child-care providers. Although the agency is more than willing to increase incentives for providers, it is more reluctant to relax its regulations.

“We want to make the regulations workable so people aren’t discouraged from becoming providers,” Martinez said.

“At the same time,” she said, “the welfare of the children is our utmost priority.”