Child Care Scholarships for Families

Paying for child care can take up a big part of any family’s budget. Child care scholarships and free programs are available to families who qualify.


Child Care Scholarships

The Child Care Scholarship Program, supported by the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS), makes child care more affordable for families so parents can work, attend school or training. The primary SC Working Families child care scholarship offering is known as the SC Working Families Child Care Scholarship.

To qualify for a Strong Start child care scholarship, parent(s) or guardian(s) must:

  • have a child or children between birth and 12 years of age 
  • work at least 15 hours per week or attend school or a training program 
  • have a gross income at or below 85% of the state median income level; for a family of four this would be up to $76,272 annually

Child Care Scholarship Applications

Head Start

Head Start is free to families with children, birth to age 5, who meet the following requirements:

  • Children from low-income families
  • Children in foster care
  • Children who are homeless
  • Family with a gross income that meets 100% of the federal poverty level; for a family of four this would be up to $27,750 annually

Income parameters for Federal Head Start Guidelines

Family Size Annual (Gross Income)
1 $0 - $13,590
2 $0 - $18,310
3 $0 - $23,030
4 $0 - $27,750
5 $0 - $32,470
6 $0 - $37,190
7 $0 - $41,910
8 $0 - $46,630

SC Head Start programs provide full day services. Some provide extended day. Some programs offer bus transportation.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) helps make child care more affordable by providing free, healthy food to children and works directly with providers.

Free meals and snacks are provided to:

  • Children 12 and under
  • Migrant children 15 and under
  • People with disabilities regardless of their age
  • In afterschool programs and emergency shelters, children up to age 18

SC First Steps 4K

SC First Steps 4K is a state-funded program that provides free, educational Pre-K programs in hundreds of private, non-profit and faith-based childcare centers across South Carolina. Children benefit from small class sizes (one to ten teacher to child ratio) and instructional curriculum (Creative Curriculum by Teaching Strategies Gold® and Conscious Discipline®) that prepares them for school. SC First Steps 4K is a Child Early Reading and Development Education Program (CERDEP).


Free Summer Meals

For school-aged children who receive free or reduced-price lunches, the SC Department of Education can help families find summer meal programs here.

Families can also call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (348-6479) or text 'FOOD' to 877-877 to find meals in their area.

Palmetto Pre-K

The Palmetto Pre-K Portal is your one-stop-shop for finding free educational Pre-K programs in South Carolina. This portal allows you to search based on zip code and eligibility to see at a glance your available program options.

Child Early Reading and Development Education Program (CERDEP)

CERDEP is a full day 4K program for at-risk children based on income (185% poverty), Medicaid eligibility or developmental readiness. CERDEP classrooms may be housed in public elementary schools or public early childhood development centers.

The goal of CERDEP is to provide children and their families with quality preschool experiences necessary for school success. Students benefit from a small class size with the maximum number of students being 20 and a ten to one student-to-teacher ratio.