Child Care For Essential Workers

By Megan Waldrep   |   April 30, 2020
COVID-19 child care includes small group play and more time outdoors

Responders Eligible for Affordable Child Care

Families of first responders are the heroes behind the scenes, those supporting loved ones as they leave to do essential work. Thankfully, the Emergency Child Care Initiative (ECCI) is offering free and affordable child care to first, second, and third responders. Scholarships and opportunities for tuition reduction are available so parents will pay reduced fees for child care. Through an incubator fund established with United Way of Santa Barbara (a joint effort led by Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation with Lou Buglioli), the ECCI is able to provide this welcome assistance. Of course, private donations are gratefully accepted as well. “Grants will be offered through this locally funded collaborative to match contributions from employers and other partners involved in each emergency child-care project,” project manager Eileen Monahan said. Eileen took a few moments with the Montecito Journal to further explain this worthy initiative and how it works.

Story time is slightly altered with social distancing practices

Q: To be clear, ECCI funding supports those in essential jobs outside of health care?

A: Correct. The ECCI fund is supporting child care for essential workers in three tranches with front-line health care staff as tops on the list. We have already served most major medical providers in Santa Barbara County, so now we are expanding to the next two priorities. These include employees involved in the distribution of our local food supply such as grocery stores, school food service, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, and employees in other essential jobs that are also providing critical services to vulnerable populations. This includes farm workers and those in agricultural production, nursing home staff, sanitation workers, gas station staff, and workers managing medical waste as well as other critical workers in the medical supply chain.

What does child care during COVID-19 look like and how is it different than normal?

One objective of this initiative is that children of essential worker populations be taught and guided through the protocols of social distancing as much as possible. Children are cared for in safe facilities with attention to their health, wellbeing, and social and emotional needs during this crisis. To that end, we help create partnerships between employers and licensed child-care programs whose staff know how to care for children in ways that support their development, meaning staff who are specifically trained in the protocols required for child care during this pandemic. Those caring for children are going above and beyond to keep themselves, children, families, and our community safe. 

How are the children interacting?

Teachers are focused on supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of children during this challenging time. Children are offered more solo activities such as puzzles and coloring, playing outdoors more often, playing in small groups, rearranging of furniture to allow for six-foot separation whenever feasible, as well as adult safety practices and frequent sanitizing of surfaces and toys. Kids are washing their hands more frequently, of course, and sleep further apart during nap time. Teachers are using roleplay to show what social distancing looks like and providing information for parents and caregivers to help children learn the new practices that will keep them safe. This includes not only teacher-child interactions, but also activities and stories that help children share their fears and manage anxiety.

How can responders apply for care?

Employers who have employees needing child care are encouraged to reach out to as soon as possible in order to engage with local child-care providers for services. Anyone wishing to support this initiative can contact Steve Ortiz, President & CEO, United Way of Santa Barbara County at There are some dedicated leaders in our local child-care system including the 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 who are playing key roles in developing the community-wide planning and response for child care providers. Together, with the child-care providers who are today some of the most essential workers in our community, these agencies are ensuring that our children can still thrive during this crisis.

Individuals needing child care can call Children’s Resource and Referral at (805) 925-7071.

To donate to ECCI, contact President and CEO of United Way Steve Ortiz at

For more information, contact Eileen Monahan at


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