A new program will pay for child care for up to 109 infants and toddlers in Central Oregon, and providers will receive renovations, new equipment and staff.
This program — named Baby Promise and led by Redmond-based nonprofit NeighborImpact — is funded through a $2.8 million state grant given to the agency in 2019. After more than a year of planning and coordination with 15 child care providers in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the program officially launched Monday.
Baby Promise aims to increase child care capacity for children between the ages of 6 weeks and 3 years, said Karen Prow, director of child care services at NeighborImpact. Due to the state requiring a higher staff-to-child ratio for very young children compared to preschoolers, there are fewer child care slots available for that age range, she said.
“Because of ratios being the way they are, where you have to have an adult for every four children, the cost is really burdensome,” Prow said. “So providers are going to lean towards providing for older children, because it’s not as demanding for them.”
In all three Central Oregon counties, fewer than 25% of kids under age 3 had access to a child care slot as recently as 2018, according to an Oregon State University study. The amount of available child care slots for children ages 3-5 was much higher in all three counties. For example, in Deschutes County, 28% of preschool-age kids had access to a spot, compared to 11% of children from ages 0-2, according to the study.
The Baby Promise program will fund these slots by paying providers a more accurate dollar amount per child, Prow said. Traditionally, Oregon’s Department of Human Services paid child care providers a set amount based on factors including ZIP code and number of hours of care. For this program, NeighborImpact worked with each of its 15 partnering providers to calculate an exact cost-per-child that the providers spent, and is paying them that amount, Prow said.
Child care providers are still expected to budget properly to provide their own salaries, but NeighborImpact has business coaches to help them with that, said Scott Cooper, the nonprofit’s executive director.
The program also created a new staff position at NeighborImpact. Lorena Rodriguez was hired last year as an infant/toddler specialist. She works closely with each child care provider in the program to find their exact needs, and then NeighborImpact funds those improvements, Prow said.
These upgrades include hiring more staff to meet the needed child-to-adult ratio, buying new toys or cribs, staff training sessions or even remodeling.
The infant room at Ermila’s Child Care and Bilingual Preschool in Redmond received an overhaul costing nearly $13,000, with a new design and brand-new cribs, according to owner Ermila Holmes.
“I cried when Karen Prow said I was chosen through NeighborImpact to get a brand-new classroom for the infant room,” she said. “What a blessing to offer those children the best of the best so we can have the tools they need.”
“I feel like I won the lottery,” she added.
Two other parts of Oregon are testing the Baby Promise program this year, according to Prow: Multnomah County and Coos/Curry counties.
Baby Promise took a year after the initial grant to start running because NeighborImpact took extra time to figure out the best methods and funding strategies for child care providers, Prow said.
“If you push past unknowns too quickly, then you make something that doesn’t stand the test of time,” she said.
Cooper, the nonprofit’s executive director, said the extra child care funding could help some providers weather the economic storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having sustainable money they can count on … may be the difference between having a viable child care system or not,” he said.