COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An emotionally charged meeting brought parents and childcare providers to a podium, voicing concerns for little ones.
"It was a death in our family. It has devastated our community, not just the families and children that I've been advocating for, for the last two years, but also to my staff," Saluda County First Steps Director Kim Chariker told the SC First Steps Board.
SC First Steps is the agency that has been providing the free childcare program and education jumpstart to 145 children across the state through the Early Head Start program; however, the federal government has given them an ultimatum, the Board says.
Parents now fear that 145 young children ages 6 weeks to 3 years are losing their place to learn because the federal gr ant of about $7 million will switch hands. On Friday, SC First Steps' Board voted 8 to 1 to reject the money that pays to provide the program. Instead, the Department of Social Services opts to offer the free childcare through a voucher system to those parents who qualify.
Parents and staff whistle-blowers have been bringing abuse allegations to light. Documents on federal reviews show reports that teachers hit children, shoved them, and mistreated them in September 2017. SC First Steps says that's part of the reason the federal government told them they're revoking the gr ant unless they vote to give it up.
"Rather than waiting and allowing more children to enroll and making that commitment and not being able to fulfill that commitment, our board felt like it was important for the benefit of children and their families for us to go ahead and acknowledge the situation that we're in," SC First Steps Executive Director Georgia Mjartan said.
That childcare center where the mistreatment was reported in Dillon in September has since been closed. One teacher resigned and another was reassigned before it was shut down.