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State leaders unveil early childhood plan

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COLUMBIA – Agency directors, legislators and other leaders today joined Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette at a State House press conference to unveil a comprehensive plan for strengthening South Carolina’s early childhood system and announced First Five SC, a new interactive website for families with young children.

“Our goal is, and always has been, to make sure all of our children enter kindergarten ready to learn, and I’m grateful for the South Carolinians who came together to develop this plan that will help us realize that goal,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “Part of that is understanding that parents are busy and that they don’t always have the time to search dozens of websites, hoping to find the appropriate services for their child. Now, we’ve addressed that by establishing an online portal that will serve as a one-stop shop to match families with programs and services that will help with their children’s development.”

At First5SC.org, families can find information about 60 early childhood programs from 10 state agencies and other statewide entities, including child care, health, early intervention, nutrition, and parenting support services. Using a secure online form, they can instantly check their child’s eligibility for 44 of these programs. Development is currently underway for a common application, where families can enter information into one online form to apply at once for all participating early childhood services.

“Our family knows firsthand how valuable our early intervention services have been,” said Katie Alice Walker, parent of a three-year-old child with special needs. “To know that families will now have access and the ability to apply for services they think they may need in one easy place will be such a gift and only benefit the children of South Carolina.”

The SC Early Childhood Advisory Council developed the First Five SC portal together with For Our Future: South Carolina’s Birth through Five Plan. The 32-page document provides policymakers and state leaders with a roadmap for improving early childhood health, well-being, and school readiness, including 19 objectives and 62 strategies under four key goals:

1. South Carolina’s youngest children are healthy and safe.

2. South Carolina’s youngest children are actively supported by their families and communities.

3. South Carolina’s youngest children arrive at school ready to reach their highest potential.

4. South Carolina’s early childhood system is aligned, coordinated, and family-centered.

The document highlights the state’s previous early childhood investments and policy innovations, while addressing some of the persistent challenges facing young children and families.

“This plan serves as our call to action,” said David Morley, chair of the SC Early Childhood Advisory Council. “With strategic investment and continued collaboration, we can expand access to the programs and services that work and ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Both the strategic plan and First Five SC were developed with the input and involvement of thousands of South Carolinians, including more than 1,200 parents and caregivers of young children who provided feedback through surveys and focus groups.

“Families understand what they need and want better than anyone else,” said Georgia Mjartan, executive director South Carolina First Steps, which operates the ECAC. “In South Carolina, we have great choices for families. First Five SC makes it easier for families to understand their options and find the support they need, want, and deserve – programs that ensure babies are born healthy, parents have great, affordable, child care options, and preschoolers are given the learning opportunities they need to be ready for success in school. This is the most comprehensive early childhood portal in the nation.”

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For Our Future: South Carolina’s Birth through Five Plan is available at earlychildhoodsc.org.

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