Early education programs seek to emphasize research-based instructional models and target students at-risk of early school failure through:
- Increase first grade readiness and pre-literacy skills of children through quality early education intervention
- Increase ongoing 4K documentation, reporting and evaluation of results;
- Increase the number of at-risk children served in quality 4K environments, public and private;
- Increase the qualifications, professional development and access to training for personnel teaching public and private 4K programs;
- Reduce the number of at-risk 4-year-olds on waiting lists for the public school Child Development program.
Orangeburg County First Steps works collaboratively with its agency partners, the faith community and private sector to support parents and families in their own efforts to maximize the school readiness of their children. Through family strengthening strategies such as Early Steps and early and family literacy programs OCFS seeks to:
- Increase effectiveness of parenting related to child nurturance, learning and interaction, language, health and safety;
- Increase successful parenting/family literacy program targeting, service integration, and results documentation;
- Increase early parent involvement in 4K-12 education settings.
Child Care Quality and Affordable Child Care
Particular emphasis is placed on assisting providers in their own efforts to maximize the learning environments they provide for young children. Through child care quality programs, OCFS seeks to:
- Increase availability of quality child care choices for parents, as measured by increasing numbers of child care providers operating at higher levels of quality;
- Increase the number of child care vouchers available to S.C. families for quality child care;
- Increase school readiness focus in child care settings;
- Increase the leverage of federal and private resources to serve the state's most at-risk children;
- Increase the number of child care workers achieving progress toward early education certification and continued professional development;
- Improve the quality of the physical and learning environments in child care settings of all types; and
- Expand public and private partnerships in 4K.
Developed by South Carolina First Steps – and identified as a promising state practice by the National Governor's Association in 2005 – Countdown to Kindergarten is a home visitation program pairing the families of high-risk rising kindergartners with their future teachers during the summer before school entry. Teachers complete six visits with each family, centered upon classroom and content expectations.
Countdown to Kindergarten is designed to:
- Establish lasting home-school bonds rooted in trust and mutual respect;
- Enable parents and teachers to reach common understandings of both familial and classroom expectations for the coming school year; and
- Establish strong student-teacher relationships that will facilitate the home-school transition and enhance classroom learning.
Reading Rocks provides 3-4 year olds with:
- Visits during the summer with a certified teacher,
- Exposure to early childhood curriculum, school environment, books, supplies,
- As well as literacy night with a literacy specialist.
First Steps-funded child care scholarships are granted in an effort to promote the healthy development and school readiness of participating children.
Each First Steps-funded scholarship client shall possess two or more risk factors:
- A preschool-aged child that has been abused
- A preschool-aged child that has been neglected
- A pre-school aged child that has been placed in foster care
- Eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, e.g. Food Stamps) or Free School Lunches (130% of federal poverty level or below-with priority given to TANF-eligible clients whose annual family income levels fall at 50% of federal poverty level or below.)
- Eligibility for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Parts B (Preschool Special Education, ages 3-5) or C (BabyNet, ages 0-3)
- A preschool aged child with a developmental delay as documented by a physician or standardized assessment
- Teenage mother/primary caregiver (at the time of the focus child’s birth)
- Low maternal/primary caregiver education (less than high school graduation at the time of focus child’s birth)
- A preschool-aged child that has been exposed to the substance abuse of a caregiver
- A preschool-aged child that has been exposed to parental/caregiver depression
- A preschool-aged child that has been exposed to parental/caregiver mental illness
- A preschool-aged child that has been exposed to parental/caregiver intellectual disability
- A preschool-aged child that has been exposed to domestic violence within the home
- Low birth weight (under 5.5 lbs) in association with serious medical complications
- English is not the primary language spoken in the home, when combined with one or more additional risk factors
- Single parent household and has need of other services
- Transient/numerous family relocations and/or homeless
First Steps funds shall not be used to supplant, or in place of, other forms of public funding available to client families for the provision of child care tuition.