Social services, non-profit provide child care scholarships for families

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Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 10:22 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A non-profit says they are partnering with the Department of Social Services to provide siblings of four-year-old’s enrolled in the First Steps 4K program with free child care and after-school scholarships.

SC First Steps and the SC Department of Social Services say their new scholarship program is called “First Steps 4K + Siblings”.

The program builds off of SC First Steps original First Step 4K program that provides free four-year-old kindergarten to eligible children in more than 200 private child care centers in South Carolina.

SC First Steps says they are both a nonprofit and state agency that is dedicated to providing comprehensive early childhood care. They say their focus is on getting children under six ready for school and life success.

The new “First Steps 4K + Siblings” scholarship program will extend free child care and after-school scholarships to any sibling of an enrolled student under 13.

“This is a transformative opportunity for families,” SC First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjartan said. “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.”

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.

“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,” DSS State Director Michael Leach said. “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.”

SC First Steps says scholarships will go into effect starting August 16.

Families can apply for both First Steps 4K and First Steps 4K + Siblings at First Steps 4K’s website.

SC First Steps says 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. They say ABC Quality is administered by the Division of Early Care and Education of the SC Department of Social Services.

According to Child Care Aware of America, the average annual cost of center-based care for two children is $18,031 per year. SC First Steps says that’s 21% of the state’s median income for married couples and 69% of the median income for single parents.

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