Some say the other consequence of insufficient subsidies for low-income families and skyrocketing child care costs is an increase in unlicensed, unregistered providers.
“Many families are forced to leave their children in unsafe, unsupervised homes because there are few, if any, openings in Head Start, and the cost of child care is too high to pay alone,” Prada says.
A private consulting firm hired by the state to survey child care in the Santa Fe area estimates that unlicensed child care in Santa Fe probably costs approximately $10 per day. Its report speculates that some of the 4,000 child care homes that disappeared from the map over the past 10 years didn’t go out of business, but have foregone the licensing or registration process.
Knell says CYFD believes its background check requirement directly led to the loss of those providers, although he tells SFR the state doesn’t have a record of how many homes didn’t pass background checks and how many ducked out in an apparent attempt to avoid them.
The Craigslist online directory for the Santa Fe area abounds with ads for home-based child care facilities that don’t claim to be state-licensed, along with ads from licensed providers trying to fill vacant spaces. Under state law, child care providers can care for as many as four non-resident children (but no more than two under age 2) without the state’s blessing. The state doesn’t have an estimate of how many child care providers are operating illegally in the Santa Fe area, but last fall’s state-commissioned study by Coop Consulting noted that it’s believed there are a “high number.” Most caregivers who didn’t mention registration or certification in their online advertisements abruptly hung up on SFR after saying they weren’t interested in talking.
“If [parents] have been with a center that’s been unlicensed, they usually have something worked out with the day care…where they’re not charged as much because they know they don’t carry a license, see, so that’s kind of like, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine,’” Liz Hussey, who runs Small World Learning Center, says. “And there’s so many [providers] out there without licenses and a lot of people take [their kids] to family members, and one friend says, ‘Well, can you take mine also?’ You know, that’s how that started. But it makes it very hard for us who work so hard to keep up our class schedule and work with the kids and maintain a license and liability insurance and everything.”
Licensed child care provider Dorene Rodriguez tells SFR that clients frequently tell her about their experiences with under-the-table homes.
“I just had an interview this past week and the lady said she just pulled her daughter out of a place that was not licensed because all they did was sit in front of the TV all day,” Rodriguez says.
Leigh Fernandez, director of CYFD’s Technical Training and Assistance Program in Santa Fe, says there are probably providers operating off the grid who are doing a great job caring for kids, but that doesn’t eliminate concerns about their operations.
“A lot of them don’t carry liability insurance, which is a very huge risk when you’re taking care of little children in your home,” Fernandez says. ”I think that’s a factor that a lot of folks don’t take under consideration. Also you’re taking a risk if you’re not charging gross receipts taxes, with the IRS. And just not having the accountability, having the various safety features in your home that you might be a little bit more mindful of if you’re licensed.”