The front door of Nora Nivia Nevarez’s adobe-like house in suburban Albuquerque, New Mexico, opens to blocks and children’s books scattered around the brightly colored carpet, shaped like a puzzle piece. Throughout the afternoon, she keeps a careful eye on her four small charges, ages 4 months to 10 years, by turns reading books and helping them with puzzles. One little boy named Javier cries as his guardian, Guadalupe, picks him up. He’s tired and ready to go home.
“I love caring for children, I just wish it were a little bit easier,” she sighs, speaking in Spanish. Nevarez, 50, has been taking care of children for decades. She began with her own three children, cared for her two grandchildren, and now helps friends and neighbors as a registered family-childcare provider in Southwest Albuquerque, one of the many in the state. And truly, her work is a labor of love. She doesn’t turn anyone away. Javier is autistic and his guardian hasn’t been able to find anyone else who will care for the child. Nevarez will.
Due to state regulations, Nevarez cares for no more than four children unrelated to her at any given point. She charges $2.00 per hour per child in her community, regardless of what families make, to help keep the cost affordable. That means, at best, she’ll earn $8.00 an hour to care for four children. But if she takes toddlers from low-income families receiving a state subsidy to help them pay for care, she may make as little as $1.58 per hour per child. That’s $6.32 per hour for four kids (according to state rates for a toddler receiving 40 hours of childcare per week). But even with such paltry pay, she rarely knows from week to week how much she’ll earn. The parents’ schedules are often erratic and sometimes the children need care for part of the week, sometimes for all of it, and sometimes, to cover families working overtime, even more.