Across the United States, millions of working parents know that finding and accessing childcare resources can be difficult. While numerous studies have shown that high-quality early child education programs can help children become considerably more successful later in life, most people find themselves choosing childcare based on cost and other practical factors instead. However, that could soon change for families in New Mexico: a new program could allow more children to receive government-funded childcare assistance, the state’s latest step in preventing child abuse, neglect and other prevalent problems.
New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) is reportedly clearing a waiting list of 1,119 children, which would allow more parents to successfully request childcare resources. This change has been made possible thanks to an additional $400,000 from the administration of Governor Susana Martinez, taken from millions in previously unspent federal funds. However, this move has been called a quick fix as state officials work to improve childcare resources in New Mexico and improve responses to child abuse and neglect.
New Mexico has been listed among the eight states with the highest number of deaths per-capita related to child abuse and neglect for four of the last five years. While experts admit there is no one solution to this prevalent problem, numerous reports have suggested that increasing the number of affordable day care providers could create better childcare options for working parents, who may currently be forced to leave their children with unreliable caregivers.
The expanded program now being offered has technically existed for years, offering childcare assistance to families making up to 150% of the federal poverty level. The new funding would allow the CYFD to make it available to families up to 199% of that threshold, who were previously relegated to a waiting list. However, the opportunity for these families to apply would expire after March 31, a move that has frustrated some activists and lawmakers, who believe the program should always be available to people at this income level.
In the end, the situation comes down to how the state of New Mexico will choose to use the unspent federal funds. Currently, the CYFD is moving the $400,000 they have received around to increase the quality of childcare by investing in day care companies, nonprofits and individuals, as well as implementing a ranking and accountability system and developing a pilot program to expand childcare resources for families at risk of abuse and neglect. As a result, the CYFD has asked state lawmakers to approve additional funds to investigate abuse and neglect claims.
Given the multiple problems facing the state, it seems that famlies in New Mexico have been left without a clear choice in spite of the increased funding. As a result, many parents are likely looking for reputable day care providers and even employers with onsite childcare to help them provide the care their children need. Meanwhile, letters were sent to families who qualified for the increased government assistance program on February 13. These people have until March 31 to apply for the program.