From a 245-person waitlist to limited enrollment capacity, various UC Santa Barbara community members evaluated disparities in accessibility of child care services for faculty, staff and student parents. 

UC Santa Barbara’s Early Childhood Care & Education Services (ECCES) has provided child care services for campus community members since its establishment in 1970. The department operates full day, year-round programs at two child care and learning centers on campus — Orfalea Family Children’s Center and the University Children’s Center. 

Both centers are staffed by full-time professional staff, as well as UCSB students, to maintain the staffing ratios. Essa Shamsan / Daily Nexus

Such disparities around child care have been an ongoing crisis in California and nationwide, with 51,000 parents missing work due to issues of accessing child care nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The University Children’s Center in the Student Resource Building is the smaller of the two centers, hosting infants — children aged three to 24 months — and toddlers — children aged 2 years and older. Orfalea Family Children’s Center is a larger facility located on west campus, hosting both infants, toddlers and preschoolers. 

Both centers are staffed by full-time professional staff, as well as UCSB students, to maintain the staffing ratios of 1:3 for infants, 1:6 for toddlers and 1:8 for preschool students, according to UCSB spokesperson and Media Relations Manager Kiki Reyes and ECCES Director Annette Muse

Muse noted that the maximum capacity for both centers cumulatively at one time is 211 children, with the University Children’s Center able to host about 44 to 46 children and the Orfalea Family Children’s Center able to host about 165 children. 

Staffing limitations and physical capacity limitations at the two centers are among the reasons for the waitlist’s high number, according to Muse. 

Department of Recreation assistant athletic trainer Kelly Walsh said she has held a position on the waitlist for one of the centers for over a year for her 11-month-old son. While Walsh holds out for an open spot, she has resorted to temporary day care options, using paid sick and vacation leave to take time off for child care purposes and relying on family support for caretaking services.

“I got on the waitlist as soon as I learned about it, and I’ve been on that list for well over a year, and I’m still waiting for a spot,” Walsh said. 

Despite temporary child care with in-home day care, Walsh was soon given a two-week notice to procure different accommodations. This followed months of phone calls to various home day care and institutional day care options with little to no luck.

“I made calls to dozens, and I’m not even exaggerating, dozens of providers, both [to] in-home day care and established institutional day cares, to find a full-time placement for my son so I can return to work,” Walsh said. “It took me months to finally find a small in-home day care situation for him.” 

Walsh voiced frustration given the time and effort she had to put in to secure the in-home day care in the first place. 

“He just didn’t even get a chance to settle in … and now I’m back at it trying to find day care again,” she continued. 

Following the end of the last week, Walsh’s son wasn’t able to stay in his most recent day care option and Walsh resorted to asking her mother to take care of her son temporarily.  Her husband is taking his paternity leave the week after Walsh’s mother departs to give the family a two-week buffer in finding another child care option. 

“Hopefully we can sort something out before the end of next week,” Walsh said. “Otherwise, I don’t know what I’m going to do.” 

Since her pregnancy, Walsh has had to use almost all of 15 years worth of accrued sick time — along with vacation time — to be able to take care of her child. 

“I’m counting my blessings that I had it all, but I don’t know what other women on campus are able to do because I would not have been able to afford to be home with my child without [those extra hours],” she said. 

Individuals on the waitlist — who must pay a fee to get on the list — are accepted into a center based on the flow of children in and out of the centers throughout the year. Muse said that once children age out of the centers and become eligible for transitional kindergarten education between the months of September and April, space is created for families to get off the waitlist. 

Third-year art and history of public policy and law double major and teaching assistant at Orfalea Family Children’s Center Isabella Millet said the centers have a tiered acceptance system, with children of current UCSB students prioritized first for enrollment. 

“Undergraduate students with children are given higher priority, then faculty and then staff, so I know that they definitely take circumstances into account,” Millet said. 

Reyes emphasized that the number of applicants for the center varies from year to year and, thus, could not provide exact numbers of how many individuals are typically on the waitlist for the center. 

“We typically get more applications than we have spaces, but it varies from year to year, and when spaces open, we fill them,” she said in a statement to the Nexus. “We are commonly able to offer a space to approximately half of those families with infants that are not initially offered a space within nine months.” 

Reyes said that remaining families on the waitlist after this are typically able to be accommodated within nine months. 

Teacher shortages, changes in eligibility requirements and effects of COVID-19 resulted in fluctuations or impacts to disparities of accessibility of the centers. 

Reyes and Muse noted that there is currently a severe teacher shortage in California, posing a challenge to recruitment for teaching positions at the children’s centers. 

We work hard to maintain the maximum enrollment. We are currently recruiting for a few opening teaching positions at the moment, which is not usual, but recruitment is becoming more challenging for us,” Reyes said in a statement to the Nexus. “The challenge may grow as the State begins to add resources to transitional kindergarten, which could have the potential unintended consequence of destabilization of the early education workforce.”

The California Department of Education changes eligibility requirements for children every academic year. For example, during the 2022-23 school year, children who turned 5 years old between Sept. 2, 2022 and Feb. 2, 2023 were allowed to join transitional kindergarten; however, for the 2023-24 school year, children who turn 5 years old  between Sept. 2, 2023 and April 2, 2024 would be eligible for transitional kindergarten.  

Millet spoke to the various disparities in lack of capacity and the price for child care at UCSB. 

“I think there’s a huge need for more child care — I know a lot of students really struggle with finding child care that’s convenient and affordable,” she said. “It should also be much more heavily subsidized than it is.” 

“I definitely think that there should be a lot more funding being put into expanding the child care center because they just don’t have the capacity to meet the needs that the community has for child care,” Millet continued. 

Walsh said the Department of Recreation has been generous in accommodating her situation, giving her extra weeks of emergency paid sick leave from the pandemic and finding other ways to make more time to figure out another child care option for her son. 

“They’ve bent over backwards trying to help me … but there’s only so much you can do,” she said. 

Walsh emphasized that although there are resources available to search for child care and other temporary options, what she needs is an immediate, permanent solution to ensure that her son can receive adequate child care and that she and her husband can continue to be employed. 

“[Searching for child care] is an emotional roller coaster, and I think future parents on campus need to be prepared for that,” she said. “You think you’ve got it settled, and then the rug gets pulled out from under you.” 

“Don’t get your hopes up, and be cautiously optimistic because it’s really tough right now.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the Feb. 2, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus. 


Asumi Shuda
Asumi Shuda (they/them) is the Lead News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. Previously, Shuda was the Deputy News Editor, Community Outreach News Editor for the 2022-23 school year and the 2021-22 school year and an Assistant News Editor during the 2020-21 school year. They can be reached at or