New partnership provides child care scholarships for families

New partnership provides child care scholarships for families

Siblings of four-year-olds enrolled in the First Steps 4K program now qualify for child care scholarships thanks to a partnership between SC First Steps and the SC Department of Social Services.

First Steps 4K provides free four-year-old kindergarten to eligible children in more than 200 private child care centers in South Carolina. The new scholarship program, called “First Steps 4K + Siblings”, will extend free child care and after-school scholarships to any sibling, age 0-12, of an enrolled student.

“This is a transformative opportunity for families,” said Georgia Mjartan, executive director of SC First Steps. “With First Steps 4K + Siblings, parents will be able to fully return to work or school, knowing that all of their children are learning and growing in a safe, nurturing environment.”

“We all agree that high quality early education benefits both children and their families, and DSS stands ready to lead with First Steps to implement this partnership,” said DSS State Director Michael Leach. “Under the First Steps 4K + Siblings voucher program, DSS will provide 12 months of child care vouchers for younger and older siblings of a 4K eligible child. Parents will not be charged a co-pay, and there is no work, school, or training requirement or income limit for families enrolled in the 4K + Siblings program.”

First Steps 4K currently serves 2,209 children in 211 centers across 40 counties. Based on these enrollment numbers, First Steps estimates that more than 1,300 families will benefit from the new scholarship program during the 2021-2022 academic year. Scholarships will go into effect starting August 16, 2021.

Families can apply for both First Steps 4K and First Steps 4K + Siblings at Sibling scholarships can be applied toward enrollment at any licensed child care center that participates in ABC Quality, the state’s voluntary quality rating and improvement system. ABC Quality is administered by the Division of Early Care and Education of the SC Department of Social Services.

The cost of quality child care is unaffordable for most South Carolina families. According to Child Care Aware of America, the average annual cost of center-based care for two children is $18,031 per year. That’s 21% of the state’s median income for married couples and 69% of the median income for single parents.

When families have access to safe, reliable full-day child care, they are better able to enter the workforce, pursue education and job training, and boost their earnings. An increase in family income improves outcomes for both parents and children.

Visit First Steps 4K at