COLUMBIA -- It will soon be easier to find and identify services available to parents of young children, thanks to a federal Preschool Development Grant received this month.
The $3.5 million grant will pay for an assessment of all services available to children from birth through age 5 statewide, with an aim of identifying the gaps where needs are not addressed and how to better align existing services. After that work is completed, the grant will expand on the existing framework to provide a more comprehensive online website/portal where parents can learn about all services available for their child and how to access them.
The one-year grant is part of a national effort to identify and streamline services aimed at young children, particularly low-income and disadvantaged children.
“Our children are South Carolina’s greatest resource, and this grant gives us an opportunity to dramatically change their lives for the better,” Gov. Henry McMaster said. “That makes everyone’s future brighter.”
The grant will be executed by the Department of Social Services, and activities will be coordinated and administered with partners S.C. First Steps, the Department of Education, the Head Start Collaboration Office and the state’s Early Childhood Advisory Council.
“We are excited for the opportunity to work collaboratively to invest in our youngest children and provide a foundation for them to succeed,” said Michele Bowers, division director of Early Care and Education at DSS.
The grant will help South Carolina:
• Develop and update its strategic plan based on the assessment of all child services statewide.
• More efficiently use existing federal, state, local and nongovernmental resources to strengthen existing programs or create new ones.
• Encourage partnerships between entities that provide child services.
• Improve the transition between home/preschool to school.
• Centralize information about services.
For instance, one of the programs that will be increased is the Countdown to Kindergarten, a program created by S.C. First Steps that allows kindergarten teachers to visit at-risk children several months before school starts. The teacher gets to know the child and parents, and the effort helps everyone better understand what’s to come once school starts.
Another part of the grant will work to improve transitions for parents and children between early childhood and school systems. For example, programs for children receiving early intervention services need a smooth transition to kindergarten to help the child, the teacher and the parent be successful.
“Helping parents know where to turn for help and what to ask for is a huge step,” said Georgia Mjartan, executive director of S.C. First Steps. “We are anxious to get started identifying the opportunities.”
As a condition of receiving the grant, the state had to identify a 30 percent match, which is more than $1 million. Some states turned to the private sector for the matching funds, but South Carolina has pledged tax dollars to the effort.
“We believe this is one of the most important things we can do – help improve the lives of children and their parents,” McMaster said.