Author: Ren Johns

What to know if you have/need child care in Portland during coronavirus

What to know if you have/need child care in Portland during coronavirus

UPDATED 3/22: If you’re like me, ever since you heard that Governor Brown cancelled K-12 schools til April 28th, you’ve been in a bit of panic trying to figure out what that means for your kid. Here is everything I’ve been able to figure out so far, including links below to folks who are and I will updating this post as I know more!

Is my child care closing?

While schools are closed, the state is not requiring child cares to close at this time, because their position is if families are working, children need a safe place to go. Stay tuned because this could certainly change for the rest of us, though not for emergency personnel.

It is up to the provider if they will be closing or not. Many providers and teachers I have talked to have significant concerns about remaining open and have been calling on the Governor to close the existing child care systems and allow current providers to apply to be emergency child care sites that only serve critical infrastructure families. If you agree with them (as I do) you can click here to sign this petition in support.

For its part, the Early Learning Division is doing everything it can to keep providers open. They are currently making exceptions to state required ratios and capacity limits on a case-by-case basis although most providers I’ve talked to think ratios need to be lower, not higher, so I’m not clear how much this provision is actually being used. The Early Learning Division says they are maintaining child care in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority. You can also check here for their FAQ on COVID-19 measures.

If my child care is open, should I send my kids?

The official guidance from the state is this:

Families for whom child care is not absolutely necessary should keep their children at home to ensure caregivers who remain open can serve those most in need, such as health care workers and other first responders.

Oregon Early Learning Division FAQ for Families

At this point in the pandemic, where we’re talking about staying home to save lives, if you are not in critical infrastructure or in a vulnerable community where not showing up for works means you are unable to feed your family, please keep your family home with you. Child care workers (and many nannies I’ve talked to) are terrified of being exposed as we already had a report this weekend of the first daycare worker being infected in Hillsboro. Social distancing is just really hard to do with people who slobber all over toys and each other…so if you don’t have to leave the house for your job right now, don’t send your kid into care.

If I am in a critical infrastructure role, where can I find care?

So on 3/18 the state emailed all licensed providers and asked them to complete a survey sharing any openings they have. That information is being funneled to 211, and you can call their operators to get the details. Here are some additional options:

If my child care closes, will I get a refund?

The Early Learning Division has taken no position on this and told people to check the contract. Most folks I have talked to don’t want staff to go without their paycheck and they definitely don’t want to lay folks off as good people are very, very hard to come by in this business, so for the month of March largely didn’t do refunds. These are for the most part small businesses with very thin margins so they can either pay teachers or refund tuition, but not both.

The big question now is what’s going to happen with April (and perhaps May) tuition. Here’s the issue – even if providers layoff teachers (which many are planning to do in April) and don’t take in tuition, they do’nt have enough reserves on hand to cover rent, utilities, etc and I’m hearing from lots of people they believe they will have to go out of business by May/early June. Needless to say, that’s a pretty dire situation for those of us who want child care to come back to on the other side. At this point, I’d recommend having a conversation with your provider about what is doable for you and for them in terms of keeping the business going if you like the care you’re getting. Behind the scenes, scores of providers have been lobbying elected officials at every level. Here’s another opportunity to sign that petition that advocates for a number of funding measures to keep this industry afloat.

Anything else?

If you have a nanny, I think it’s probably time to think really hard about whether or not it makes sense to have this person to continue to come to your home to provide care given the risk of exposure to them and the community if we continue to have people traveling back and forth. You will need to think seriously about whether or not your are paying them during this time or not. I know that’s a tall order and also if you are the only family working with this person, they are your employee and dependent on you. If you decide not to continue paying them I would definitely formally lay them off so that they can collect unemployment. If you have been paying them under the table (which is not legal), that will be impossible to do.

If you are searching for care, I would say hold on for a few weeks. Right now providers are trying to figure out what they’re doing for April and whether or not they’ll be able to stay in business on the other side. I would give it a few weeks until we get clarity on whether or not there will be a relief package to support child cares, and then start checking back in again. And definitely look me up on the other side because if you thought care was hard to come by before, even if we do get a relief package I think odds are very good that it will be even more difficult to find.

Need to get in touch with me? You can find me at renjohns.com, on Facebook, on Instagram, or email ren at pdxwaitlist.com

5 Thing to Look for When Touring Portland Child Cares

5 Thing to Look for When Touring Portland Child Cares

You did it! You found a child care that might have a spot for your kid! Now…how do you figure out if this is a place you actually want to send your kid?

I have visited over 50 child cares in the Portland Metro area of all types. Here’s what I’m looking for to decide if it’s a place I want to pass on to my clients.

Safety

You’re going to have a gut sense of this as soon you walk in the door. Does the environment look clean and well-maintained? Are there safety features – light socket covers, gates at stairways- in places they need to be? Is there a defined space for diaper changes and a sanitizing protocol? If your spidey-senses are saying, “I don’t know about this place” right off the bat, probably time to move on.

The tour is also an excellent time to ask follow-up questions about anything you were unsure about or that concerned you when doing a license check. If you didn’t get to see that blog post, look here for this MUST-DO safety step.

Interaction

Here’s what the research says makes the biggest difference in early learning: adult-child interaction. Whatever the age of your child, you are looking for a place where adults are talking with children all day long.

In the baby room, that’s going to sound more like narrating the day (“I’m changing your diaper. Oh look, you’re raising your foot. Here’s a little piggy…”) or babbling back and forth (“Ah-boo to you too!”), and of course singing songs and reading books. As children get older, I’m hoping for a program that engages children in really thinking about the world around them, asking lots of “how” and “why” questions!

Environment

You want your child to be in a space that is designed for kiddos their age. Toys/books/games should be nicely displayed and easily accessible by children. Ideally there should be a curated set of material that is rotated regularly; having a toy free -for-all can be overwhelming. This space might be light-filled and full of Scandinavian birch design, or a basement that has been carefully and thoughtfully appointed with classic toys that every child loves. If a place is a little worn around the edges I’m fine with that as long as it is safe overall and the materials are clean, unbroken, and well cared for.

Routine

Whether your child is 4 months or 4 years old, there needs to be an intentional plan for their day that takes into account what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.

Little babies should be allowed to follow their own rhythms for eating and sleeping, but there should still be time within the day for them to go outside on a walk with their teachers to get fresh air and to listen to stories, particularly once they pass the 6 months mark and are awake for longer stretches.

For children ages 3+, I want to see a routine that involves a circle time or other whole group activity so they build their stamina for this in kindergarten. I also want to see that they have the opportunity to explore the different “disciplines” – math, science, literacy, art- every day.

Philosophy

I’m actually curriculum agnostic – you can have a great Montessori or Waldorf or Reggio program or a rich stew of various programs. I just want the provider to have a plan for the day and to have a rationale behind why they chose that plan.

When I’m on a tour, I’m actually more interested in how their philosophy of raising children matches my family values. Are we on the same page around how to handle challenging behaviors like biting or hitting? How would they handle it if my child refused to take the bottle, and do I feel good about their response? Way better to ask now and find out there’s not a match than to discover that 3 months in.

You are your child’s first teacher. You know them best and your instincts about what will work for your family will lead you in the right direction!

If you get stuck, I’ve got tons of resources in my free Facebook Group on finding care!

Also, check out these other great tips on the blog: Understanding Your Child’s Circadian Rhythms & 4 Realistic Timelines for Postpartum Healing.

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:

PDX Snow Day Back-Up Care: 3 Things to Do BEFORE the Snowflakes Fall

PDX Snow Day Back-Up Care: 3 Things to Do BEFORE the Snowflakes Fall

Snow days are a wintery dream for little ones and a huge headache for working parents. Many day cares and preschools take their cue from the local school district, meaning that you may just have an hour or two’s notice that school is delayed or cancelled all together. The secret to making this work is doing the legwork in advance to figure out your options so you’re not scrambling day-of.

1.) Decide as a family who’s on first.

Who’s going to take a day (or morning) off from work or be in charge of reaching out to the back-up options you’ve lined up? If you’re co-parenting or have a partner, it’s worth discussing this in advance when no one is stressed about the big deadline looming or the essential meeting that they’re going to have to miss. This could also mean having a conversation with Grandpa or Aunt Matilda or your best friend Derek about when/if they could pinch hit for you and if there are any days/times that won’t work. As snow looms in the forecast you can then confirm their availability so you’re not having to call around to see who’s up and taking your call at 5:45 am.

2.) Check out places in your area that do drop-in care in advance.

There are several child care providers that specialize in day-of, drop-in care. I’ve listed a few below for reference with the caveat that you need to do your own research (see below!) to make sure these would be safe choices for your kids.

WeVillage runs to centers that offer drop-in care for infants – elementary school, and has sites in both NE and NW Portland.

Kids Klubhouse in SW Portland can take kids 2.5 – 12 years old.

Vida Coworking in NE has drop-in child care for up to 4 hours on site at their gorgeous coworking space.

There are also smaller in-home providers who specialize in drop-in care for their neighborhood, such as PDX Kids Dropoff Day Care in Sellwood. And some providers, particularly smaller in-home sites, will offer drop-in care when they aren’t full. You can use this website to find the in-home providers in your area and call around to see which of them are open to taking drop-ins during bad weather.

While these services are great, it goes without saying that you need to check them out in advance to make sure you will feel comfortable leaving your child with them. At a minimum, you need to check their license on the state child care safety portal to make sure you feel comfortable with their record and you should tour/visit in advance.

3.) Build out your bench of sitters

When all else fails, it helps to have a solid list of names that you’ve already interviewed and reference checked. Care.com is the old standby, but there are also a number of nanny agencies that can source temporary or “in-a-pinch” caregivers – Portland Nanny, Spilt Milk, Northwest Nannies, and Caregivers Placement Agency all do temporary placements, often for as little as a few hours, but many require you to sign up in advance.

With a little bit of elbow grease now, you can save your self a ton of stress. If you’ve got questions about back-up care or just need to find child care in the first place, get in touch with me here or join my free Facebook group where I share tips on how to search for care and what to know once you’ve got it!

3 Things PDX Parents NEED to Know to Find Infant Care

3 Things PDX Parents NEED to Know to Find Infant Care

About two weeks out from going to back to work, I had no infant daycare plan in place. I panicked. I had gone on all the tours, signed up for all the lists…why was this so hard?!? Things worked out, as the always do, but the whole process was so unnecessarily stressful that I actually started a company to make it easier to find child care in Portland, and I’ve now helped hundreds of families find daycares and preschools.

I’m not gonna lie to you – trying to find infant care as a PDX parent is not easy. If it’s any solace, according to one OSU study, every county in the state is a child care desert, meaning there are more children who need care than available spots). But, despite what you’ve heard, it’s not an impossible task and you don’t need to pay a bazillion fees. What you do need is an understanding of how the system works, a few useful websites, and some elbow grease.

#1: Know the daycare calendar

The first thing you’ve got to know is that most (though certainly not all) spots come available during one of 3 big enrollment seasons – September, January, and summer. September is by far the biggest time for openings. This is when the preschoolers go off to kindergarten and make room for every age group to move up. It is particularly true at large centers, which typically have the longest waitlists.

Even though many new slots come open in September, peak enrollment season is actually the winter before. Starting in January, providers ask their current families whether or not they are returning the following school year. These providers then start making offers to folks on their waitlists for those fall openings, meaning that if you show up in August, that baby spot you were hoping for may have been long since promised to someone else.

What can you do about this? As soon as you know you’re going to need child care start looking. Ask how many times a provider does enrollment through the year (beyond random, one-off openings that may pop up) and look for places that use a rolling admission system, meaning they enroll children throughout the year.

#2 The “sibling bump”

Here’s the other thing that’s happening at daycares and preschools across Portland, particularly at centers – siblings of children already in the program get first dibs on any openings. At my child’s center, the only take 8 babies a year and 7 in my kid’s class are siblings.

What can you do about this? Ask on a tour how many openings they have for babies each year that are not going to siblings. If you’re going to have more than one child and you have your heart set on a particularly in-demand center, stick it out on the waitlist and make the switch at preschool, when the state mandated adult:child ratio changes and most providers open up lots of new slots. Then, your next child will benefit from the sibling bump and you won’t have to go through this again!

Photo: Casa Feliz

#3 Look Beyond Centers!

The number one mistake I see PDX parents making is the same one I made myself when I was first looking for child care – I joined the waitlists of the same 5 centers that everyone else in town has heard of, all of which only enroll once a year and fill most of their infant openings with siblings.

What can you do about this? Look at smaller providers! If you find a popular center you love of course it’s a good idea to join the waitlist for a spot a few years from now (see #2 above!), but also consider in-homes. There are over 650 child care providers in the Portland Metro area and most of them don’t have any waitlist. There is no reason to drop $500 on fees at a bunch of centers with similar wait times.

Instead, join the lists of 1-3 large centers that you really love, and then use this website to find the in-homes nearby. Full disclosure, that website is super-clunky (both Paper Pinecone and Growing Upwards have nicer interfaces), BUT includes all the small providers that may not even have a website, so it’s the main website I use when I search for clients. Pro-Tip: Call (don’t email) between the hours of 1 and 3pm which is when the babies nap!

Bonus Tip: Check the License

There is nothing more vulnerable as a parent than leaving your precious little person with a stranger. Before you sign on the dotted line and put down that deposit, PLEASE check the license of your provider here. The user experience of this website could also be improved but it pulls directly from the licensing visit database. FYI – it’s an exact match search so if you get the apostrophe in the wrong place it will return the response “no results”.

Need more help? Let’s get in touch! I’ve got a free Facebook group for Portland families looking for child care where I post regular tips, videos, and other resources. You can also find me on Instagram. There’s no need to go it alone y’all – reach out, I’d love to help!

Welcome to Portland Mom Hub!

Parenting is intense: it’s as challenging as it is rewarding, and it can feel very isolating although you just grew your family!

We want to support you on your parenting journey and share everything that we wish we had known when we were starting out!

Dr. Angela Potter

Supporting mothers from fertility through postpartum.  Visit me at DrAngelaPotter.com

Ren Johns

Looking for quality day cares and preschools in Portland, Oregon?   Visit my site at RenJohns.com

Marie-Eve Gagnon

If your family is experiencing sleep struggles, I can help!  Visit my site SlumberTimeSolutions.com

Katharine Burton Jeffcoat

Feeding a family and children can be challenging!  I can help.  Visit my site at PortlandPediatricNutrition.com