New members join South Carolina First Steps leadership team

June 22, 2021

South Carolina First Steps has two new members of its leadership team. Karen Oliver joined the agency in February as the Early Childhood Advisory Council’s (ECAC) Program Manager, and Derek Cromwell started June 2 as Chief Partnership Officer. This week, the SC General Assembly is slated to approve the first-ever allocation of state funds to support the work of the Early Childhood Advisory Council including permanently supporting the Program Manager position. The Chief Partnership Officer role became available when Debbie Robertson announced her retirement, effective July 1, after more than two decades of service. Robertson’s commitment to children will be celebrated December 2, at the SC Summit on Early Childhood where she will receive the Champion for Children award.

Karen Oliver manages the ECAC’s grant-funded activities, provides information about the early childhood state system to policymakers and leaders and facilitates progress toward early childhood system goals. Oliver brings more than 20 years of experience working with human service organizations. She was most recently the Senior Director of Community Resources at the United Way of the Midlands, where she directed community collaborations, volunteer engagement, grant making and evaluation. Oliver’s volunteer roles include six years as a Commissioner on the SC Commission on National and Community Service and participation on the 2020 Columbia Counts Census Committee. Oliver has a Master of Social Work from University of South Carolina and a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut.

Derek Cromwell serves as the Chief Partnership Officer overseeing funding and support for the state’s 46 First Steps local partnerships, one per county, with a total budget of approximately $17 million. Cromwell comes to SC First Steps from the AARP Foundation in Little Rock, AR, where he was Project Director. Derek has a combined 24 years of experience in a variety of public and nonprofit organizations in program leadership roles, including: the Corporation for National and Community Service (now known as AmeriCorps), Heifer International, The American Red Cross, the Area Agency on Aging, and the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program. Derek is a veteran of the United States Air Force, where he served 10 years as a first responder. He is a 2006 graduate of the University of Phoenix, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management.



South Carolina First Steps is the state’s only dedicated, comprehensive early childhood initiative focused on getting children ready for school and life success. As both a state agency and a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, First Steps works with families, early educators, and partners statewide to support children from birth through age five.

South Carolina First Steps takes a holistic approach to accomplishing our mission, offering services that improve children’s health, strengthen families, expand access to quality child care, increase participation in four-year-old kindergarten, and help transition rising kindergartners into school.

Because this mission is a shared endeavor, it also mobilizes partners in building a more effective and efficient early childhood state system. In its role as the connector and convener of all early childhood serving agencies, It operates the Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC). Its trustees serve concurrently as ECAC members and SC First Steps staff coordinates their collaborative efforts to support families and help young children thrive. Learn more at SCFIRSTSTEPS.ORG.