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No Kidding

Child Care in Santa Fe is Growing–Out of Reach

March 9, 2011, 1:00 am

Home child care provider Helena Mitchell holds Nichi Sauceda-Benally, 3, while Mitchell’s son Gabriel, also 3, demonstrates an early affinity for construction work.
Credits: Wren Abbott

During her child care search, Lopez explored every option in her price range—from intimate home child care providers to large centers, such as La Petite Academy, a Chicago-based chain with an outlet on the south side of Santa Fe that holds 125 kids. LPA charges $800 per month for children under 2, but less than $600 per month for older children. Lopez had a negative impression of LPA, which was the only Santa Fe child care center that rebuffed SFR’s request for a quick unscheduled interview and tour.

Center Director Terrance Gandert said he would check with headquarters and get in touch if given permission to speak, but never did.

Garcia Street Club also is classified as a center, but has a much smaller 40-student capacity and only takes children age 2 to 5. GSC has a school environment, with kids’ artwork—including a 10-foot-long painted cardboard-and-paper dragon the kids made for Chinese New Year—adorning the adobe walls, separate classrooms for different ages, and a little library. When SFR visited, the 2-year-olds were captivated by a soft foam pneumatic rocket that launched—with adult assistance—from the push of a pedal.

Bigger kids were pushing miniature dump trucks and climbing on playground equipment in the school’s spacious play yard.

Child care homes are even smaller, and can be quieter and more low-key. Helena Mitchell, a former special education teacher with a master’s degree in education and a calming presence, emphasizes imaginative play in her home-based care. 

“I’ve had people come and say places are too big or chaotic or they didn’t want to throw their kid into a big giant place, or they had tried it and it’s just too much,” Mitchell says. “Their child was young and they still needed a smaller group, more attention, or they were lost and unhappy.” 

The National Academy of Early Childhood Programs sets as part of its accreditation criteria a maximum group size of 12 for children under 2. National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care 2002 research indicates kids ages 5 and younger should be cared for in groups no larger than 16, but smaller sub-groups in a larger setting can fulfill that requirement.

“In general, the fewer kids there are per caregiver or teacher, the better,” New Mexico Voices for Children spokeswoman Sharon Kayne says.

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