New research from The University of New Mexico’s Cradle to Career Policy Institute (CCPI) shows that while child care subsidies are helping make care more affordable, some families still struggle to find child care that meets their needs.

Researchers at CCPI interviewed 35 New Mexico families who receive child care subsidies through a special eligibility category for families facing complex circumstances such as unstable housing or involvement with child protective services. The child care subsidy program provides families with a voucher that covers the full cost of child care to use with a provider they choose. Following policy expansions in recent years, it is estimated that more than half of New Mexico children are now eligible for child care subsidies. CCPI’s most recent study focused on families with complex circumstances, who receive extra support in accessing the program.

“Families who qualify for the program can get free child care and it really frees families up economically,” said Hailey Heinz, deputy director of the Cradle to Career Policy Institute.

The study examined those families’ perspectives and experiences using the program and found several benefits. The findings showed the program was easy to use and families recorded positive interactions with specialized eligibility workers who support families with more complex needs. However, the study found some people still had difficulties finding child care that met their needs, including families working non-traditional hours, such as evenings or weekends, or people facing transportation challenges. Families of children with special behavioral or health needs also struggled to find available care.

“New Mexico’s made all these investments," Heinz said. "More families than ever before are accessing child care and getting it for free, which is making a huge difference for them, but there’s more work to do to ensure that child care is available during the hours families need." 

According to Heinz, this study is one small part of what CCPI is working on. She says the broader research agenda is examining how child care subsidies and the child care sector are performing in New Mexico for everyone, not just families in the special eligibility category. 

“New Mexico is doing all of these different policies to try to expand the supply of child care that meets families' needs and we're trying to evaluate whether those policies are working," Heinz said. "Do families in New Mexico have better access to child care than before these investments? How is access looking for families? Things like that." 

The latest research was funded by a $1.5 million federal grant the Cradle to Career Policy Institute received in 2019. In addition, some parts of the Institute’s broader child care research have also been supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.