One of the biggest challenges families face in Portland is finding child care.

Or, more accurately, finding child care in their area that they can afford, that actually has an opening to take their child(ren). For many parents, the question of when to look for care is met with a simple answer: yesterday! Ryan, marketing lead at PDX Child Care, tells a story of going to a daycare open house with his then newborn daughter, only to look around the room and realize literally everyone else was pregnant.

We’ve heard that waitlists for child care in Portland are long. But just how long? As the most comprehensive provider of information about child care in Portland, we recently polled our provider community to ask them about the current length of their waitlists. 59 providers responded, and what we found was revealing–or even a bit terrifying. Spoiler alert: if you have a child or are planning to have one soon, start looking for care now

Not surprisingly, the longest waitlists are for those needing full time care for infants. At over 7 months, Ryan’s experience of seeing mostly pregnant women at a daycare open house makes sense. Waitlist times do go down for families needing only part-time care care for infants, but still sit at 5.6 months. In general, full-time care has longer waitlists than does part-time care. For toddlers, full-time waitlists average 5 months while for part-time spots, the wait is 4.4 months. As seen below, the gap is similar for preschool age children.

In addition to the waitlist times, providers gave us several interesting insights. One explained the intense demand for full-time spots as coming from the increased cost of living”

“Portland is changing. When I started my school 10 years ago the half-day openings were full with in days of registration for summer and Fall, now it’s the full day openings that fill first. I blame it on the housing costs … [it] used to be that if 1 parent worked full-time the other could stay home or do a little work from home and be able to make ends meet. Not so much the answer anymore. :(“

First of all, it is important to note that not all providers keep waitlists. For some, if they don’t have an open spot, they refer families to other reputable providers. One provider told us:

“Not all of us keep wait lists in part time care, since there are 10 times as many schools as there were just a few years ago! better to send a family off to a school with an opening.”

Two other providers told us to not despair too much at the thought of months-long waitlists. One said that waitlists may be long one day, but short the next.

“Our wait list change frequently because families who have been waiting for over a year often find alternative care and are no longer waiting for openings. We have two times per year (June and September) when we have full-time openings in our Infant classrooms. Our older classrooms have openings sporadically throughout the year when students withdraw or change their schedules.”

Another provider encouraged families to look closely at all of their options. Getting hung up on finding a spot with a particular provider may lead to disappointment, but there is almost certainly a good match for you out there:

“There are a handful of child care and preschool programs that are the “hot” spots at the moment. These tend to have waitlists. However, I know a number of very high-quality, established preschool programs with no waitlists at all! My recommendation is to look at what is out there yourself, and determine what would be the best fit for you and your child. Most importantly – reach out to them yourself about whether there are openings! Many might assume that all the good programs are already full, but they actually have spots!”

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