Updated November 16, 2022
How to Find Child Care in New Mexico that Works for You
Finding child care can be as personal—and as daunting—as a big purchase like choosing a home or a car. Every family has unique hopes and wishes for child care, and has different practical needs, too. Do you need a daycare near your work? Do you need early dropoff or late pickup? Do you keep calling child care centers, only to find they all have waiting lists? It’s a lot to consider, so where should you start?
You can start with a new Child Care Finder tool, a free website to help New Mexico families find the care they need. Do you only want to look at home-based care? You can do that. Only interested in child care and daycares that accept Child Care Assistance? You can do that, too. You can also send messages to program directors through the site, or schedule a tour to get a closer look.
Do you have a new job lined up and need care right away? This is one of the best features of the Finder. Child care providers can update their availability in real time, so the website has up-to-date information about whether they are currently accepting new children, and what ages they are accepting. Providers who say they have available spaces will show up at the top of the search results, so you can focus on places that have room for your child to enroll soon. You can also filter your search to only see providers with available spaces. (A quick note, though: just because a provider hasn’t entered their availability doesn’t mean they are full! It’s worth calling if you find a place that looks just right for your family).
Ready to search?
Try the new Child Care Finder! Families can search for child care that meets their needs, including searching by location, hours, quality rating, and whether the provider is accepting new families.
Child Care Assistance
Rachel said she often tells families to start with Am I Eligible?, which is a brief online survey to help you see if you qualify for supports and services. This is an especially good idea now, because New Mexico has raised the income cap for child care assistance—and raised it a lot. That means even if you earned too much in the past, you should check again. Most families in New Mexico now qualify for the first time, and you can watch a quick video about the program here. And, New Mexico is not currently charging co-pays, meaning that in most cases your child care is completely free if you enroll in assistance. Once you know whether you qualify, you can use the Child Care Finder to either limit your search to programs that accept assistance, or search within your budget.
Types of Child Care
When you think of child care, you may imagine a busy center filled with tiny chairs and finger paintings, or a few children playing together in a private home. New Mexico has many types of care, and Rachel’s team offers this helpful site explaining all the types. Care can be provided in centers, in schools, or in individual homes.
Often, in-home care can be a strong option for families who need care during evenings, weekends, overnight, or have schedules that change a lot. If you’re looking at home-based providers, here’s a tip: A licensed in-home provider has met more quality and training requirements than a registered one, and licensed home providers have star quality ratings. Wait, what’s a star quality rating? Let’s find out.
Understanding Star Ratings
To help families find high-quality care, New Mexico rates licensed child care providers on a five-star scale. As programs increase their quality, they earn more stars. But what does quality mean? Rachel said a higher star rating mainly means the provider has lower ratios (fewer kids for each adult to care for), and that the educators working there have higher training and education requirements. The star ratings are determined through other details that are available here (if you want to really dig in).
“Generally,” Rachel said, “as you move up in stars, it’s a downward trend in [adult to child] ratios, and there are more expectations in terms of training and environment.”
Rachel advises families to tour any child care they are considering. Families should watch how children are treated, and whether the space looks safe and well-maintained. Just remember, she said, that excellent early childhood education is a messy business.
“I think many times, quality care—you’re going to look at it and kind of see a mess,” Rachel said. “You may not see at first glance that there is creativity happening, there’s child-led play or child-centered play.”
Rachel said families should follow their own best instincts about whether a place feels right. New Mexico also offers this guide to selecting quality child care, which includes things to look for, questions to ask, and tips about how care works in New Mexico.
If you like to go deep, New Mexico has a searchable website where you can see state reports for all care providers. You can see any complaints or incidents that have been checked out by the state, and the results of regular state inspections.
If you’re considering a provider who cares for kids in their home, New Mexico also provides a lookup tool so you can see if they are licensed or registered with the state. Use the center tab that says “In-Home Provider Lookup Tool.” If you see your provider there, it means they meet state training and safety requirements, and have had a background check.
Chat with an Expert
If the search feels a little overwhelming, you can call a guide! New Mexico has a team of experts who will answer your questions and help you search for care that meets your needs. You can call them at 1-800-691-9067. If you don’t get an answer, leave a voicemail and someone will call you back within 24 hours (Rachel said it’s usually much faster than 24 hours). In addition to child care, this team is also knowledgeable about finding home visiting, early intervention, PreK and other programs for young children and their families.
It can still be hard to find care. Depending on where you are and what you need, there are sometimes just more babies than there are spots available. Rachel said infant care in Santa Fe, for example, is in very short supply. So, what then?
First, know that you aren’t alone, and the problem is real. Early childhood experts have worried for years about the lack of high-quality child care in many areas. It’s especially challenging for infants and toddlers, and COVID-19 has made it worse.
But you have options. Rachel said she often advises families to expand their search criteria. If they originally searched for programs within 10 miles of their home, they can try increasing that distance. If families were only looking at centers, she tells them about home-based care options. In some cases, Rachel advises families to consider working with a relative or friend to become a registered caregiver, if they are already providing care informally.
Finding child care isn’t always easy, but New Mexico has done a lot to make it easier. With the new Child Care Finder and with child care assistance available to more families than ever, there are new ways to find and afford high-quality care for your family.