Is my kid safe? How to check daycare/preschool licenses in Portland, OR

Is my kid safe? How to check daycare/preschool licenses in Portland, OR

Every parent has their own personal wish list when it comes to looking for child care, but to a person, the number one thing on the minds of every parent I’ve ever worked with is “Will my baby be safe?”

Fortunately, the terrible outcomes that happen in the news are fleetingly rare considering that tens of thousands of children are in care in the state each year, but obviously every parent wants to be sure that their provider isn’t one of those rare cases. That’s why checking the provider’s license is a must-do safety step. Let me tell you how to do it, what you may see, and what the story is about unsubstantiated complaints.

How to check a license

As part of your search process, every parent should check out the Oregon Early Learning Division’s Child Care Safety Portal. You can input the name of the provider and then review a record of all licensing visits conducted over the the duration of the license as well as any visits related to complaints. State licensors drop by every provider- regardless of type – for at least one unannounced visit each year, and centers/certified providers receive at least one additional visit per year.

The first critical step is finding the right record. The Safety Portal is an exact match search, which means you need to type in the name exactly as listed by the provider on their licensing documents in order to find it in the Portal. For that reason, I recommend searching by address and trying a few variations (Northeast or NE) if you get a “No Results” response.

When to worry

Once you find the record, you need to make sense of it. If all you see listed is a series of dates and the type of visit (typically called a “Monitoring Visit”), that means the provider has no issues on their license, which is fantastic and also somewhat rare. It is fairly common for providers to have “administrative” issues – expired food handlers cards or other missing paperwork, and while that isn’t ideal, I tend not to worry too much about that.

What does concern me are patterns, e.g. every visit the background checks are always expired, as well as more serious issues regarding supervision and safety, such as documented abuse or consistently being out of the state mandated adult/child ratio. The Portal has recently been updated so that as of 1/2020 pdfs of the actual reports from their visits are posted online so you can dig into the details yourself. You can also always call the state licensing office with questions about how to interpret something and even speak directly with the licensor, but I find most of the time your gut is going to lead you in the right direction. If something feels scary or concerning, don’t ignore that feeling.

Unsubstantiated complaints

The grey area in this process is what’s called an unsubstantiated complaint. That’s a complaint that was called in by someone and when the licensor investigated it, they couldn’t determine if it actually happened or not. It is not uncommon in the business for disgruntled employees to call in complaints on their bosses. It also certainly the case that sometimes things happen but there are simply no other witnesses present.

When I see unsubstantiated complaints that concern me, I always start by asking the provider directly about it. This doesn’t have to be done in a rude or combative way. I simply say, “I was looking at your license on the safety portal and I saw XYZ, which concerned me. I know there’s often more to the story – can you share with me your perspective on what’s happened and what, if anything, has changed since?” Based on their answer you can decide whether or not this is a provider you’re actually willing to consider. If I see patterns of multiple unsubstantiated complaints over time, I consider that a red flag.

Keep it up

Checking licenses, touring any providers you are considering, and asking to speak with current families enrolled there will give you peace of mind that you’re making the right choice. Once you get in, I recommend that you do a quick scan of the license once a year just to make sure that nothing has come up as teachers change, directors move on, etc.

In the meantime, if you’re stuck finding those places with openings to begin with or you want to hear what the word on the street is about a certain provider, get in touch. Having visited over 70 providers in Portland, I have a pretty good handle on what’s normal and what’s not and I’m happy to help you think it through!

Read more great articles on raising your little ones! Check out these recent posts:

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