New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed Senate Bill 22, to create a new state agency, the Early Childhood Education and Care Department.
Its purpose is to offer every child in New Mexico the best opportunity to succeed in school, work and life by providing for public and private support for kids from birth until they start kindergarten. The department will rearrange existing services spread across four departments.
Data Shows Gaps Between Child Populations and Program Capacity
Leaders in early childhood services are getting helpful information from a University of New Mexico institute that is trying to map the capacity of each county to meet the needs of their child populations.
The Cradle to Career Policy Institute (CCPI) and New Mexico Early Child Development Partnership have created a dashboard for policy makers to understand the capacity among different types of child development care and education services within the state.
The dashboard makes use of an earlier home visiting dashboard which highlights the growth of providers in the past three years. The home visiting dashboard was a joint project with the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Home Visiting is an important part of the early childhood effort because it involves sending social workers to meet families coping with newborns or infants— a critical stage in lifelong development.
CCPI works on applied research projects with a goal that people will use the information in the community. The institute works with the community partners, state government and local foundations to figure out timely answers to specific research questions.
“We want our research to be useful to people here in New Mexico in a fairly short order, not like 10 years from now,” said Hailey Heinz, Research Scientist at CCPI. She works specifically on early childhood development research.
Heinz says anyone looking at the map can get a basic sense of where providers are located in counties. But, she said, this is more for a macro perspective for measuring general capacity and she advises against analyzing too vigorously since it is still a “hodge podge” of information.
“It’s a nice way to see at a glance which counties have pretty high saturations for their populations, and which have lower saturations for their population,” Heinz said.
Nonprofits in Early Childhood Development Key to System Success
At Youth Development Inc. (YDI), family well-being is the strategy behind early child education.
“Our focus really is on that family development, making sure that families are ready for school,” said Charlotte Ramirez, Education and Communication Manager for YDI’s Early Childhood and Family Development. “Making sure they’re healthy and have the supports they need in order to be successful and also to really engage in that child’s life because they (parents) are the first teacher of their child.”
YDI has been working to better communities since 1971. They are especially concerned with the enhancement of early childhood development within New Mexico. Their early childhood division amounts to 65 percent of their total budget.
YDI’s early childhood care pipeline begins with a pregnant women’s program which leads into home visiting— joint funded by Early Head Start and CYFD Home Visitation. From there, the home visitors work on the child’s overall development while creating a needs assessment. These home visitors can be seen as teachers, but they also act as case managers.
Home Visitors Work Closely with New Families
YDI’s home visiting program currently consists of six home visitors.
“They [home visitors] are really looking at developing that family” Ramirez said.
Paula Bledsoe has worked multiple roles within YDI for the past 20 years. The past two years she has worked as a full-time home visitor. She has worked with children from two days old to three and a half years old. Bledsoe works primarily with urban communities in Albuquerque and Bernalillo. Her typical caseload is about 12 families at a time, of which, she said, one or two could be in “bad neighborhoods.”
“You feel like you are doing something important,” said Bledsoe, “changing a family dynamic, which in the long term changes a community.”
Not all families choose home visits. Some prefer to take their child into center-based programs like Early Head Start . They can test the waters during the organization’s monthly socializations. Ramirez says this builds on peer to peer connections and allows the children to experience what a day to day program might look like.
“This [Early Childhood Education and Care] department is an investment in our children, and thus in our shared future,” said NM Gov. Lujan Grisham during the signing ceremony. “It is an important step forward. We have many more steps to take, and I will continue to lead the push. And, on behalf of families across New Mexico, I’m grateful to legislators who put our shared principles into practice with this bill.”