Santa Barbara Childcare Project

Brighter Futures Start Here

Driven by the vision of more resilient communities and supported by committed networks of leaders and organizations, United Way is continually seeking out opportunities to fortify families and students in their financial and educational futures. At the intersection of these focus areas, United Way has identified a significant need for affordable, accessible childcare options for local families.

Supporting comprehensive expansion and development within the childcare sector is an essential extension of United Way’s work to create a more solid foundation for students and families to thrive. Access to quality childcare not only improves children’s future academic outcomes, but also contributes to household financial stability, granting families the flexibility they need to participate in the workforce, manage family finances, and better prepare for future emergencies.

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Through the creation of programs and initiatives to support school readiness, literacy remediation, and student success, United Way has worked closely with school districts and educators to provide the tools and resources children and families need to create a foundation for future success. 

As needed, United Way also utilizes program staff and infrastructure to address pressing and emergency community needs on behalf of children and students throughout the region. As the COVID-19 pandemic closed many care centers and facilities, many essential workers and first responders were left without options for reliable, quality childcare. In response, United Way launched the  Emergency Child Care Initiative (ECCI). Established in March of 2020, United Way worked in tandem with the Natalie Orfalea Foundation, the Audacious Foundation, and Lou Buglioli to develop the program in response to the urgent need for quality, safe childcare facilities to serve frontline and essential workers in the early days of the COIVD-19 pandemic.


The ECCI successfully connected private sector employers, childcare experts and support agencies, and philanthropic and municipal funders to deliver an efficient, adaptable program model that quickly expanded access for local families to quality, reliable childcare. 

In addition to United Way's work in emergency childcare, the organization also operates early learning and bridge programming for children and students throughout the county. These programs include: 

Fun in the Sun - Summer Learning Program 

United Learning Center 

Early Learning Success Institutes 

Between each of these programs, in addition to the complete spectrum of the organization’s academic programming, United Way has served thousands of children and families throughout the County of Santa Barbara, providing the tools and resources they need to succeed at home and at school.


In response to United Way’s success in expanding infant and toddler childcare for emergency and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization was commissioned by the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta to facilitate a community needs assessment to better understand the specific needs of local families in these two cities in securing access to reliable, affordable care. In partnership with a local consultant, United Way program staff worked with childcare industry specialists, local providers, employers and corporations, and school districts to conduct the assessment that we plan to expand countywide.

With responses from over 492 local parents and 72 childcare providers, in addition to focus groups conducted with representatives from 10 local employers, the assessment yielded a robust set of data that reflects the current childcare environment. The data acquired in the assessment has proven especially valuable in navigating next steps in rebuilding the sector after recent years of community crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the childcare industry nationwide but had an even larger impact on communities like those in Santa Barbara County. With this set of data, United Way has already taken steps to target communities and needs identified in the results of the survey, prioritizing the recommendations listed in the final report.

Read the 2022 Childcare Assessment Report

Thanks to our experience conducting this assessment, United Way looks forward to replicating the success of this survey countywide in collaboration with the County of Santa Barbara. As we continue our conversations with identified stakeholders, we will expand this data set to include all the communities we serve through United Way’s academic and financial resiliency programming, including communities in Guadalupe, Carpinteria, and Solvang. 


Additional Resources: 


Child Care Sector Survey Results and Recommendation Report - First 5, County of Santa Barbara

Child Care Report (2022) - Maria Chesley Consulting 


April 27, 2022 Childcare access, affordability | United Way expresses concerns during presentation before Santa Barbara City Council (Santa Barbara News-Press)

April 27, 2022 United Way to highlight childcare needs during Santa Barbara City Council meeting (KEYT)

Results from the initial childcare assessment exposed an intense and immediate need across all income levels for assistance in finding and affording quality childcare for children ages 0-5. Recommendations from the assessment included: 

  • Appoint a coalition of stakeholder groups and community leaders who will adopt and pursue a childcare collaborative action plan. 
  • Hire a childcare coordinator to manage the adoption and implementation of the collaborative action plan. 
    • Elements of a comprehensive collaborative action plan should include concrete actions to:
      • design and implement data collection strategies to guide future efforts
      • build a better mechanism for connecting parents seeking care with program openings they are eligible for and can afford
      • provide scholarships for parents in the “missing middle” who make too much for government-subsidized programs but too little to afford the average cost of care*
      • increase the supply of childcare spaces
      • strengthen the pipeline of qualified early care and education workers
      • provide supplemental support for the pay of workers in the sector
      • help childcare providers open and maintain profitable businesses
      • facilitate employers’ engagement in assisting employees with childcare needs. 

New funding recently awarded to United Way will support the organization’s leadership in fulfilling the priority recommendations as listed in the assessment, including assembling the coalition of stakeholders and community leaders and the coordination of consultants and childcare coordinators to assist in classroom expansion and business support, facilities planning and technical assistance, and emergency childcare plan development.

United Way has been tasked with five key outcomes:

  • Countywide Childcare Assessment
  • Development of an Emergency Childcare Action Plan
  • Business Sector Expansion Support
  • Childcare Funds – Employers & Scholarships
  • Long-Term Sector Sustainability Planning

In facilitating the initial childcare assessment and in its history in childcare, United Way maintains key relationships with qualified consultants and representatives from local municipalities, childcare industry experts, and providers and parents who are experiencing the realities of the current childcare system. This network continues to offer diverse and impactful input as United Way leads new initiatives in the childcare space.

United Way has begun conversations with local school districts, businesses, organizations, and municipalities to assist in developing a more streamlined approach to facilities and program development within the sector. In these conversations, United Way has identified key consultants, specialists, and representatives who we will contract to assist local providers in navigating licensing and permitting challenges, facility design recommendations, and budgeting & funding for expansion in childcare countywide.

In 2023, United Way launched the Brighter Futures Childcare Initiative: a county-wide, cross-sector effort to improve access to high-quality childcare for parents from all economic backgrounds while generating innovative solutions that will support new and existing childcare centers with sustainable expansion. The Coalition meets quarterly to provide insight and feedback used to direct United Way's work within the sector.  

2023/2024 Brighter Futures Childcare Coalition 

University of California, Santa Barbara

Deckers Brands 

Audacious Foundation 


Santa Maria Valley Chamber 

Future Leaders of America

Montecito Bank & Trust 

City of Goleta 

Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce 

Guadalupe Union School District 

Maria Chesley Consulting 

City of Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation

First 5 Santa Barbara County 

California Senate, District 19 

MarBorg Industries & HR Association 

Carpinteria Children's Project 


Cottage Health 

Join the collaborative

To learn more about the Santa Barbara Childcare Project and how to get involved, click the button above or contact Raquel Sanchez at

United Way will expand current early learning and family stability initiatives to include new programming to address the outcomes and goals listed in the childcare assessment. Programs will include: 

1. Family Scholarship Program 

In partnership with licensed childcare providers, workplaces, and local agencies, United Way aims to establish a scholarship program to ease the burden of childcare costs on households that fall outside the limits of federal support programs. Partnering with local, licensed childcare facilities throughout Santa Barbara County, United Way will establish a network of providers and connect them with funding to support families with children in their care.

2. Emergency Childcare Plan 

In collaboration with the Office of Emergency Management, United Way will expand its network of providers, corporate partners, and specialists to create an emergency action plan to support first responders and essential workers with quality childcare options in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.