When the pandemic hit and the families of young children in the Navajo Nation needed food and clothes, Kim Kee and others formed an early childhood “coalition” to help distribute care packages.
While later discussing services available for young children and their parents on the wide-spanning Navajo Nation, which includes parts of New Mexico, the group noticed a problem: “Programs work in silos and provide duplicate services,” Kee said in a recent interview.
Organizers hope a new grant opportunity from New Mexico’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department could help coalitions like Kee’s unify resources and brainstorm new ways to care for the state’s youngest kids.
The state’s early childhood division is sending $5.4 million in federal pandemic relief funds to early childhood coalitions in New Mexico through individual two-year grants that will pay for part-time positions and outreach.
The grant program is supposed to tie in with the Early Childhood Education and Care Department’s strategic plan. The plan is based on a 2019 needs assessment conducted as the department was forming.
The assessment called for more pay for care workers, an increase in home visits and more coordinated services.
New Mexico is home to 18 active early childhood education coalitions, which help connect families to services and provide planning around early learning.
That includes the Rio Arriba County Early Childhood Collaborative and the Pueblo Outreach Project, both organized by Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation. The Rio Arriba group hosts meetings for families and service providers. like hospitals and day care centers countywide.
“We saw there were wonderful systems working in Rio Arriba County, but they were working in silos.
No one really knew what the other was doing,” said LANL Foundation early education Vice President Anna Marie Garcia.
She hopes that if LANL receives the competitive grant, the organization can bridge a distance between early childhood efforts in Rio Arriba County and those happening in the Pueblo Outreach Project, which helps coordinate services like home visits for people from eight pueblos in north central New Mexico.
“We’re looking to build a strong childhood system across all these systems,” she said. “So we have one collaborative that is really strengthening early childhood across the community.”