We live in an infant care desert, and support for first-time and young parents is scarce. Families must navigate an informal network of family members, friends and neighbors, who often have difficulty providing the best care for babies and toddlers.

Research shows that from birth to age 3, children generate more than a million new neural connections every second. A child’s relationships, experiences and environment all influence this stage of development, making high-quality early child care essential. The child care landscape in New Mexico is challenging, but there is increasing support.

Thanks to the foresight and generosity of the Brindle Foundation, the Santa Fe Baby Fund was launched at the Santa Fe Community Foundation in 2012 with an extraordinary gift of $1.1 million. The Baby Fund was built on the belief that the vitality of any society rests upon the opportunities afforded to all children early in life. In addition to providing funding to local community organizations, the Fund collaborates with other early childhood funders in policy and advocacy.

Throughout its first decade, the fund has celebrated many milestones as state leaders have made significant progress in supporting infants. In 2012, New Mexico’s expenditure in early childhood education and care was $136 million.

By 2021, New Mexico policymakers dedicated $448 million to such programs. These critical resources supported more than 9,300 children and families with child care assistance and helped more than 2,000 licensed or registered childcare providers stay in business. This year, the state’s new Early Childhood Education and Care Trust Fund will make its first disbursement.

While we celebrate these improvements, we also recognize we have a great deal of work ahead of us. Not surprisingly, the pandemic has adversely affected the early childhood education and child care sector in Northern New Mexico. Working families in Santa Fe are struggling more than ever to find affordable child care; waitlists for the few licensed daycares in the city can last up to half a year or more. Parents fortunate enough to secure a spot will spend at least $1,000 per month for adequate infant care — a necessary expenditure that can threaten housing security as the cost of living continues to rise in our region.

Heartbreaking stories still abound in Santa Fe, and they’re made even more tragic when babies are the main characters. The nonprofits that our Baby Fund support serve as a last resort for many of the city’s youngest residents.

St. Elizabeth Shelter recently received a grant from the Santa Fe Baby Fund that allowed it to open its doors to a young immigrant couple expecting their first child and needing shelter. Hopeful for the life they would create in the U.S., the young couple found that even with legal immigration status, opportunities were hard to find.

Struggling to meet their most basic needs, let alone prepare for the arrival of a baby, they ended up on the doorstep of St. Elizabeth’s Casa Familia emergency shelter, which took them in without hesitation and helped them navigate a path forward.

Another grant helped pay for transportation, food, child care and interpreters at Gerard’s House’s Resource Nights, a program that provides information about community resources to help young parents raise their children. The grant also provided direct financial support to help young parents facing unpredictable life events such as a COVID-19 diagnosis, loss of income or the death of a loved one.

Rigorous scientific research has confirmed time and again what we all know to be true: when babies are given stable and stimulating care, they thrive and in turn the community flourishes.

As we celebrate the Baby Fund’s 10th anniversary, we know that if our city is to prosper, we need to ensure all children can develop socially, emotionally and intellectually. A city that supports its youngest residents will see benefits ripple through the community.

Sarah Amador-Guzmán is director of development for the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

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