New Mexico Search Tool helps families find child care

(TNS) – State officials and early childhood program advocates are touting a new online search tool aimed at connecting families across New Mexico to quality childcare.

The childcare search site launched on Tuesday with more than 1,000 providers and matching services listed in Spanish and English.

The site is a partnership between the state’s Department of Early Childhood Education and Care and online childcare company Wonderschool, Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Groginsky said at Tuesday’s virtual news conference announcing the launch.

Groginsky said the site will allow families to find, consider and communicate with childcare centers online.

“We understand how overwhelming it can be when a family tries to choose a place for their child, sometimes for up to eight, ten, ten and a half hours a day,” Groginsky said. “This is an important decision and we want to make it as easy as possible for families.”

State officials know that finding child care for families in New Mexico can be challenging. Newly re-elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham listed ensuring access to affordable, quality childcare as a “cornerstone” of her administration, but the state does not have enough childcare supply to meet demand, Groginsky said.

Childcare employment nationwide remains 8.4 percent below pre-pandemic levels, according to the University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. A 2021 survey by local children and family organization Growing Up New Mexico found that 57 percent of families said they needed “more” or “a lot more” childcare.

Groginsky said the new childcare locator website aims to make it easier for families to find available childcare that meets their preferences and needs.

Here’s how it works: After navigating the site, families can customize their childcare center searches based on the child’s age, location, budget constraints, availability, scheduling needs and other factors, explained Mia Pritts, vice president of strategic partnerships at Wonderschool. From there, parents can sign up, schedule a tour, or notify staff at a specific center.

“This begins the facilitation of the relationship building and information sharing that is such an important component of an ongoing, responsive, collaborative relationship between parents and providers. We’re really interested in bridging that gap between home and school,” Pritts said.

While the site launched with more than 1,000 licensed childcare providers across the state, Pritts said developers are working to add more, including those that are license-exempt.

The website is smartphone-enabled. Families without internet access or who need a customized referral can access the Finder’s features through the Department of Early Childhood Education and Care’s resources and referral hotline at 800-691-9067.

Kate Noble, vice president of policy and stakeholder engagement at Growing Up New Mexico, said the search feature can be a powerful tool. With strong commitment from childcare providers, the new search option could ensure that childcare facilities can quickly fill vacancies with children in need of care.

“Essentially, the childcare finder is a way for technology to grease the wheels of the alignment that needs to happen between a family that needs care and a provider that provides care,” Noble said.

However, the search function does not – and cannot – solve some of the larger problems challenging the childcare sector, including the lack of available care, Noble said.

Consistent efforts to address the childcare shortage, including better pay and support for workers, are needed to ensure all families can find the childcare they are looking for, Noble said.

© 2022 Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.