Children of front-line workers come together to learn while practicing safe distancing. (Courtesy photo)

The Emergency Child Care Initiative (ECCI) was established to provide members of the essential workforce with affordable child care options to allow them to continue working in roles that are critical to our local COVID-19 response.

Since ECCI was launched in early April, child care programs have been established serving most major health care providers throughout the county, including Cottage Health, Sansum Clinic, Lompoc Valley Medical, and the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast.

With those programs firmly established, the initiative is now shifting attention to other members of the essential workforce. This includes employees in food service, grocery industry, farm workers and agricultural production, nursing homes, sanitation, and other essential workforce professions. Children ages 6 months to 12 years will be prioritized.

Employers of essential workers are urged to contact the ECCI to quickly assess child care needs of employees and connect them with licensed child care in the community.

It is the objective of this initiative that children of employee populations (especially health care and first responders) are kept as separate as possible, and children are cared for in safe facilities with attention to their health, wellbeing and social emotional needs during the coronavirus crisis.

“We help create partnerships between employers and licensed child care programs where staff know how to care for children in a way that supports their development, and are trained in the protocols and best practices recommended or required for child care during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Eileen Monahan, project manager.

United Way of Santa Barbara County (United Way) serves as a partner and fiscal agent of the ECCI, which was established with support from Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation, with Lou Buglioli. Other funders have joined the effort, such as the James S. Bower Foundation, the Monroe Foundation, and Linked Foundation.

To date up to 246 affordable spaces at four different child care centers have been established, with additional capacity available for expansion.

“Leaders in philanthropy are driving this community project forward and welcome others to join them in supporting this effort,” said Steve Ortiz, president/CEO of United Way. “It must be a priority that children are safe and well-cared-for during this crisis.”

The ECCI works with a collaboration of funders, employers, providers, and leaders in the child care community including Santa Barbara County Education Office Child Care Planning Care Council, First 5 of Santa Barbara County, and Children’s Resource and Referral of Santa Barbara County.

If you are an employer of essential workers or if you are a child care provider who wants to help, contact Monahan at To contribute toward the Emergency Child Care Fund, contact Ortiz at

To provide assistance to individuals and families, as well as organizations supporting members of the community affected by the pandemic, donations can be made to COVID-19 Joint Response Effort, a partnership between the Santa Barbara Foundation, United Way of Santa Barbara County, Hutton Parker Foundation and other leaders in philanthropy. Visit for more information.