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No Kidding

Child Care in Santa Fe is Growing–Out of Reach

March 9, 2011, 1:00 am

Julia Lee, age 4�, plays in the sandbox at Garcia Street Club preschool.
Credits: Wren Abbott

For those who are licensed, complying with safety regulations—and annual checks—can be time-consuming and expensive.

Andreas Besuch, who runs Chrysalis Child’s Garden, a home-based program, says when he first started his business, he spent approximately five hours per day on administrative work, trying to comply with CYFD and City of Santa Fe regulations. Now, he has it down to approximately an hour per day. 

Mitchell moved to a brand-new house under the assumption she would be able to increase her licensing level and accept two more children, only to discover that the Santa Fe Fire Department and CYFD have conflicting regulations. Santa Fe Fire Department told her that unless she wanted to install commercial-grade wiring and fire protection in the new place, she could only take five clients, versus the six she was expecting.

Mitchell’s and Besuch’s centers are two of only 10 Santa Fe day cares that have gone through that process, according to a list of day cares licensed by the city that it provided under a public records request. City Constituents Director Sevastian Gurule says the city doesn’t have an enforcement officer who looks for businesses in the city that are operating illegally, but is more complaint-driven.

Besuch says it seems unfair that he’s effectively being penalized with additional restrictions for trying to “comply with all state, local and federal laws,” as instructed by CYFD.

“There are other people who don’t go through licensing, they just have 12 children at the house no matter what,” Besuch says. “I mean, if you want to be official, which is actually a good thing that you want to check us out—if there’s something dangerous in the house, the house could have maybe gasoline in storage and that would be dangerous for the children. I understand that’s a good thing…in another way it’s kind of backfiring because now the city knows, ‘Oh, they have a child care,’ now they have inspected it so they place all their restrictions on it.”

Gurule says CYFD relies on Santa Fe to do the fire inspection for these businesses. Knell says CYFD accepts a fire inspection from any city, county or state fire marshal. 

Child care providers SFR contacted for this story that held state licensing or registration, but didn’t appear on the city business list, didn’t realize there were additional steps they were supposed to have taken.

Perusal of CYFD’s annual inspection reports for registered and licensed centers and homes suggests providers must be meticulous to earn rarely awarded complete compliance. SFR found providers marked incompliant for failing to include soap in their first aid kids, or because a rug was “bunched up” on the day of the inspectors’ visit. Rodriguez bought a water temperature gauge to appeal CYFD’s determination that the water in her child bathroom was too hot.

“They come in and they put their hand under your water…and say you don’t have the right temperature water,” Rodriguez says. “Well, how do you know? Is your hand a thermometer?”

Those exacting standards seem to have earned New Mexico points with the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, however, which praises New Mexico for addressing “nine of 10 safety requirements” in regulations for family child care homes.

Not all of the infractions noted against providers were trivial, however, and the easy access CYFD provides on its website to the past two years’ results is a useful tool for parents to review before enrolling their children. PMS Head Start Flores del Sol was written up last December for allegedly failing to notify the state that one of the employees was arrested. Playschool of the Arts allegedly failed to notify the state of an incident requiring medical attention. In March 2009, CYFD followed up on a complaint made against La Petite Academy alleging staff walked away from a baby on a changing table. In May of last year, CYFD did an “Incident Investigation” of LPA after it allegedly failed to report a communicable disease.

Jessica Ladd at Coop Consulting tells SFR that although CYFD’s requirements have their advantages, their strictness discourages would-be caregivers and likely causes many to run their business outside legal channels.

“We talked to people that wanted to get licensed, but they just got tired of all the red tape and ‘You need to do this, you need to do that,’ and they said, ‘Forget it, I’ll do something else.’” Ladd says.

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