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Finding Childcare with Ren Johns

Dr. Stafford is joined by Ren Johns, the founder of PDX Waitlist, an online platform that connects families needing childcare with providers. They make it easy for child care providers to manage their waitlist while also simplifying the application process for parents. In addition, Ren hosts classes and offers private consulting.

Learn everything you need to know about PDX Waitlist on their website:

Topics discussed in this episode:

•How PDX Waitlist works

•Options for childcare

•Connecting families with childcare facilities

•Streamlining the waitlist process

•How to assess a childcare facility

•Overcoming dental fears

Listen, read, watch! You can listen right here, or with a podcast app of your choice. You can also read the complete transcript below, or scroll to the bottom of this post for the video.

You can browse all previous episodes on Anchor and Youtube!



Dr. Stafford: Hi. I'm Dr. Michelle Stafford here with our podcast, Mixed Dentition. Today my special guest is Ren Johns of PDX Waitlist.

Ren Johns: Hello.

Dr. Stafford: Thank you so much for being here today.

Ren Johns: Happy to be here.

Dr. Stafford: Thank you. Thank you. Tell us a little bit about PDX Waitlist and the origin, why you started this.

Ren Johns: Yeah. I mean, it started because I think I had a problem a lot of folks have, which is I had no idea how early you've got to get childcare when you have little ones. So I now feel like it should be printed on the pregnancy test or something, but I didn't know. I don't know why that was. I just didn't know. So my parents are going to be in town. I was like, "I'm so set. I'm just going go, and I don't need it for another nine months. I'll just pop in now. I'll be so ahead of the game." And I saw all these mamas with bellies, and I was like, "Ruh-roh." That was kind of my first sign that I'd missed the boat and everything had multi-year wait lists and I was like, "Oh."

Dr. Stafford: Oh gosh. Yeah.

Ren Johns: As things do, there were some health complication that come up for my family. My folks couldn't watch her anymore. I needed something STAT. I just was like, "She's precocious but can't watch herself. What should I do?"

Ren Johns: So ultimately we found something, but it was just so stressful, and I just had so much anxiety about the process. My husband and I kept looking at each other being like, "There has to be a better way, right? This can't be ... This isn't the system." So we just decided to create the website we'd wished we'd had. So that's kind of how we got into it.

Dr. Stafford: That's awesome. Yeah. How does your website work, for our listeners out there?

Ren Johns: Right now we've got close to 30 providers in Portland area who use our website. You can go on and apply from your phone. One challenge we had was like you always need checks and like PDFs that you printed out. That just doesn't match my life anymore, right?

Dr. Stafford: Right. Yeah.

Ren Johns: I haven't written a check since 2002.

Dr. Stafford: Seriously.

Ren Johns: So we've made it so it's mobile friendly. You can just go on, you can search for things in your area, and you can apply right there. As soon as you apply ... Or you can schedule a tour if you're not sure yet if it's the right fit, and so that's nice, too. You don't have to do like email tag back and forth. You can just see when it is, and sign up, and it send you reminders.

Ren Johns: Then when you apply you can see exactly where you are on the wait-list. And that was a thing that we had wanted, because you'd go and people would say, "Well, it's just so hard to tell." And we were like, "Give me something. Wiggle your eyebrows if I have a chance."

Dr. Stafford: Right. Yeah. "Where am I on the Waitlist? Number 20, 200, [crosstalk 00:02:31]." Yeah.

Ren Johns: Now it gives you a sense of five families or ahead of you, 10 families are ahead of you. And most importantly at the bottom it says, "In a typical year, we have zero to two openings, seven to 75 openings," however. So You can use that information to say, "Okay, we're getting in probably. There's no guarantee, but we have a good shot, or we need to get on some other wait lists," right?

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: That was just the information. I was happy to sign up for these places even if I wasn't getting in right away, because they looked like great places. But I just needed to know, "Do I need to keep looking or not?"

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: So trying to give families that kind of information has been, I think, the biggest thing. The other day I was at ... I teach high school as my other gig, and I was at a luncheon talking to a mom. She said, "Oh, I'm on your site. And I could see that there's five families ahead of me at one site and 50 the other. So I'm feeling like I've got a better shot here." And I was like, "Yes. That's why I built this."

Dr. Stafford: That's awesome.

Ren Johns: Yeah. That's what I wanted for families.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah. That's really great. Then, too, I mean once you get into one spot, then I imagine you probably drop off of the other wait list, and other families get bumped up, and kind of helps everybody.

Ren Johns: Absolutely. That's a thing that happens, too, is that some wait lists look really long. In Portland, the estimated wait list time for infants is somewhere around nine months and some places it's up to two years to get a slot there, which I thought was like a Manhattan thing, not a Portland thing.

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: But sometimes those lists look really artificially long because folks ... What did I sign up for in the haze and my postpartum weeks? I have no idea. I might've sold my soul, right?

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: So people don't remember what they did then. Maybe there are folks on that list who aren't actually looking for care still. So trying to be able to clear that out and make it just a little bit clearer for everybody, so you have a better sense of, "How realistic is it for us to get in?" That's what we're trying to do here.

Dr. Stafford: That's really great. What kind of different childcare facilities have you encountered? And explain the difference.

Ren Johns: Yeah. There's like three main options for childcare. You're either going to look at group care, which is going to either be a center or an in-home setting. And the biggest ... There's certainly some differences in terms of ratio and some different things around the licenses. But it's more of a like do you want an in-home kind of a family vibe, maybe a mixed age group with a few caregivers? Or do you want a place that's more like a school for little people? So that's kind of the big choice for parents at that point.

Ren Johns: The other option is around do you want a one-on-one caregiver? A Nanny, an Au pair, somebody who's going to be the closest thing to you without it actually being you home with your child. So those are the main decision points. And a lot of times that comes down to just cost as well as availability.

Ren Johns: A lot of families would love to have a nanny, but if you're paying aboveboard with taxes, that's 35 to 40k a year at the minimum, so that's a chunk of change. And that's why folks do nanny shares. An a pair is a fair amount cheaper, but you need a little lead time to have someone come from internationally.

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: And a lot of folks want a center and they have the longest wait lists. So I think sometimes it's not as much about what you want, it's about what's actually available.

Dr. Stafford: What's available. Yeah.

Ren Johns: Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: Well, it's a great service that you're providing to families and to the centers, too. It sounds like it's streamlining their process.

Ren Johns: Yeah. Because they're small-business owners, too. And I think, as we know, sometimes the challenge is just getting the word out there. So one of the things I do is I work with families one-on-one if they're in a jam, kind of consulting with them to help them find a spot. So there's almost always something. So if you're watching this and you don't have care, like there's something out there, I promise. It's just a matter of finding it. I like being able to be that bridge who can say, "There's this open slot that's losing this really great provider money, and there's this mama who's hungry for a good place to put her kids. How can I help you find each other?"

Dr. Stafford: Right. That's great.

Ren Johns: So that you can actually work together and have a place that you can feel good about for your kids, so you can do your job.

Dr. Stafford: Right. Yeah. So that you can go back to work as a working mom, or a working dad if you so desire.

Ren Johns: I think there's just a lot of stress on parents who are working-

Dr. Stafford: I think so, too.

Ren Johns: ... and lot of guilt about the choice to have care that's not you, and there doesn't need to be. I know you guys were lucky that that wasn't [inaudible 00:06:51] for you.

Dr. Stafford: My husband mostly stays with our kids, and we took ... They were in school from a pretty young age, too, just to kind of expose them to other kids, and we have a grandma in town.

Ren Johns: Right.

Dr. Stafford: Having a grandma in town is like the most valuable thing.

Ren Johns: Yes. We are lucky that my mother-in-law is in town, as well.

Dr. Stafford: If could get all the grandparents to move here and help with the kids, I think that would be great. But I know it's not realistic for everybody.

Ren Johns: There's actually countries where they have a rent-an-Opa system-

Dr. Stafford: Oh, I love that.

Ren Johns: ... where that's kind of the nanny system that they've built is around trying to connect folks who are elderly, who might be otherwise disconnected from family, with families who need the care. And it's one of those things where you're like, "Why can't we have that here? That would be awesome."

Dr. Stafford: I know. That would be great. We do know that there is a center, I'm not sure if it still exists, where they had eldercare and childcare, so that they could help each other. Because the elderly does do well being around young people, and little people do really well being around elderly people, the grandparent generation, so that's really sweet.

Ren Johns: Right. Absolutely. I think it's just thinking more about, "How do we connect all of those pieces of family life from the very youngest to our wisest is this community members to try and figure out a way for children and families to be successful?"

Dr. Stafford: Yeah. That's really great.

Ren Johns: One of the things I think that you have that comfort around a grandparent that folks have anxiety around with a stranger is just that idea about quality, and like, "How do I know it's a good, safe place for my kid?"

Dr. Stafford: Right. safety, for sure.

Ren Johns: I think that's one of the other areas I try and help families around. I teach a class on what to look for in childcare just so you can have a sense when you walk in the door, "Is this place good or not? I mean, the children seem okay. How do I make this decision [crosstalk 00:08:36]"

Dr. Stafford: What questions to ask and what to look for. That's really great.

Ren Johns: How to check the license, those kinds of things, so you can at least have as much peace of mind as you can that your child's going to be great, and learn awesome things, and be able to tell you about it when you come back home.

Dr. Stafford: Oh, that's great. How often do you teach this class?

Ren Johns: I teach the class every couple of months, or so.

Dr. Stafford: Okay.

Ren Johns: Then on the off months, I'm starting to do clinics for families, so folks can do a drop-in clinic and chat with me for 15 minutes. Then I do consults all the time, but at least get a little bit of triage where I'm like, "Here's my immediate situation. Help. What's my next step?"

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: Again, that was just my own experience. I sometimes just wanted a person to say like, "Yeah, right track. Keep going."

Dr. Stafford: Yeah.

Ren Johns: Or, "All the stones, they've been uncovered. Keep it going." Or like, "Oh, have you tried this?"

Dr. Stafford: Yeah. Oh, that's great. What a great service that you offer families. That's really wonderful.

Ren Johns: Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: It's amazing that there's not other services out there or other ... That you created this website to connect everybody and just to keep it so interconnected. I just love that.

Ren Johns: There are lots of pieces out there. 211 does some important work. Multnomah County has a childcare resource and referral. So There's definitely a lots of pieces, but they tend to work with different kind of components, different demographics of families, and not everybody knows about one or the other. There are certainly websites out there where you can search for childcare, but they don't let you apply. So I'm just trying to like knit those pieces together and work with some of those different players so that ... We're all so busy trying to track down the 10 different websites you need to go to. Who's got time for that?

Dr. Stafford: Right.

Ren Johns: So how can we centralize, and make a little bit more of a hub, and just make life easier for everybody?

Dr. Stafford: Yeah. That's really great. Yeah. Making parents' lives easier. That's fantastic.

Ren Johns: Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: Anything we can do to do that, for sure.

Ren Johns: There's just a lot, I think, that we all, as working families, do. So anything to streamline makes life better.

Dr. Stafford: Oh, wonderful. Tell us the name of your website.

Ren Johns: It's PDX Waitlist, so it's

Dr. Stafford: Love it.

Ren Johns: Yeah. Classes, you just go .com/classes, and you can find me there. And we're hoping to expand into ... Right now, pretty focused on the City of Portland, but we'll looking to expand to Washington County and maybe Clackamas County this summer, as well.

Dr. Stafford: Oh, great.

Ren Johns: So you can find us there, and hopefully we'll be having some new sites in your neck of the woods soon, too.

Dr. Stafford: Wonderful. Well, we'll definitely link to you guys, as well.

Ren Johns: Thank you. That would be great.

Dr. Stafford: I know a lot of parents that have struggled, so I just love knowing that you're out there and can make our lives just a little bit easier, so thank you.

Ren Johns: Awesome. Okay, I have a question for you.

Dr. Stafford: Oh, great.

Ren Johns: Is that okay?

Dr. Stafford: Yeah.

Ren Johns: So here's my deal. I grew up, and maybe other families have this too, and sort of had negative childhood dentistry experiences.

Dr. Stafford: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ren Johns: I feel like I sometimes struggle faking it till I make it with my kids to really create a positive environment for them. What do you suggest for families? What do you think is important in setting the right tone around this? Because I've got little kids, right? I've got a one-year-old, I got a four-and-a-half-year-old, so trying to make this a positive for them from the get-go. What do you suggest?

Dr. Stafford: That's a great question. Well, it's true a lot of people have had negative experiences at the dentist. And most of us pediatric dentists, I would say all of us pediatric dentists, the reason why we do this is because we want to create an atmosphere that makes going to the dentist fun and easy and exciting, kind of like going to Disneyland.

Ren Johns: Yeah. That would be great.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah.

Ren Johns: [inaudible 00:12:17] to that dentist.

Dr. Stafford: So TVs on the ceiling, toys everywhere. I mean, that's what you should expect when you come to a pediatric dentist. It's just more fun. And I think as a parent, if you know that seeing the dentist makes you sweat, sending somebody else with your kids and talking it up at home like, "Oh, you're going to have a great time. It's awesome." You can buy a little mirror to practice or play dentist. Kids love to do make-believe, so pretending and playing dentist is a great way to go.

Ren Johns: Right.

Dr. Stafford: And just trying to keep it as positive as possible, so they don't know that it's going to have any kind of scariness to it. And it doesn't have to. It can be a lot of fun.

Dr. Stafford: But sometimes when I see a parent and they are kind of white knuckling it, and I don't even wear a white coat. And I'm like, "Hey, I'm really nice. You don't have to be afraid of me." I'll sometimes like gently suggest, "If there's somebody else in the family, even if it's a grandparent or someone else, that can bring your child, it might be better," if I see you sweating over there in the corner.

Dr. Stafford: But, yeah, we're trying to change the perception, so that we have a generation of kids who actually love coming to the dentist.

Ren Johns: Yeah. I just think it's so-

Dr. Stafford: Be cavity-free, too.

Ren Johns: Yes. I wish that, as well. I wish I'd had that experience early on, so that's kind of helpful. Thank you.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah, that's great.

Dr. Stafford: Well, I appreciate you being on the podcast, Ren.

Ren Johns: Absolutely. Thrilled to be here.

Dr. Stafford: Thanks for coming in, and thanks for creating your website to help families out there. What a great thing you have going, so thank you.

Dr. Stafford: For all our listeners, thanks for tuning in and remember to fill the world with smiles. Bye.



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