New partnership provides child care scholarships for families

May 12, 2021


Samantha Ingram
Communications Coordinator

Danielle Jones
Public Information Coordinator

COLUMBIA, S.C.– 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.

To view a video of the partnership announcement, please click here.

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About South Carolina First Steps

South Carolina First Steps is both a nonprofit and state agency and is the only statewide, dedicated comprehensive early childhood agency in South Carolina focused on getting children ages birth through five ready for school and life success. Last year, First Steps directly served 28,427 children across all 46 counties.

Established in 1999 by the South Carolina General Assembly to close the gap on students’ preparedness for success in school, South Carolina First Steps takes a holistic approach to accomplishing its mission of preparing all children for success in school, work and life, offering services that improve children’s health, strengthen families, expand access to quality child care, increase participation in four-year-old kindergarten programs and help transition rising kindergartners into school. Learn more at

About South Carolina Department of Social Services

The South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) serves one in every six South Carolinians with the agency’s mission to serve South Carolina by promoting the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and vulnerable adults, helping individuals achieve stability and strengthening families.

DSS is the regulatory authority responsible for the health and safety of children in licensed or registered child care centers in South Carolina through the agency’s Division of Early Care and Education. To learn more, please visit or

Topics: First Steps 4K, Early Care and Education

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