Harris County Early Childhood

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is leading an effort to explore potential investments for young children in our community.

Research demonstrates that early childhood programs have one of the strongest returns on investment for any type of public program. Positive outcomes associated with early childhood programs include:

  • Better school performance
  • Higher rates of employment as adults
  • Less contact with the criminal justice system

Thousands of families in Harris County simply lack access to essential resources for their children. That’s why Judge Hidalgo is digging deeper to explore what Harris County could offer to help each new generation grow up stronger, safer, and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

During Spring and Summer 2020, Judge Hidalgo hosted an Early Childhood Community Conversation and a series of Virtual Conversations to gather input from our community to inform the County’s efforts to provide more opportunities for children in Harris County. Based on that input, Harris County established the Early Childhood Impact Fund in October 2020 to provide financial support to high-impact early childhood programs targeting Harris County families most in need.

Early Childhood Impact Fund

In Fall 2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $10 million Early Childhood Impact Fund to provide competitive funding to research-driven programs with the potential to dramatically improve early childhood outcomes for vulnerable Harris County families. A rigorous evaluation process, informed by data collected during the Virtual and February 15th Community Conversations, narrowed the pool based on potential for impact, evidence base, the organization’s experience and capacity, and cost effectiveness.

In February 22, 2022, Harris County Commissioners Court awarded three grantees a combined total of $7.9 million in American Rescue Plan funds to seed a targeted portfolio of early childhood programs, including resources for educators and new parents and the expansion of home-based child care providers. Recipients include:

  • $4.6 million to Texas Children’s Hospital to build the upWORDS Community-Based Universal and Targeted Intervention Model: The program will provide universal education, resources, and materials to parents of young children. Over three years, 20,000 children will be served and TCH will train 6,000 early childhood educators.
  • $2.4 million to First3Years to expand the Safe Babies Approach in Harris County: This initiative, which will be offered to 300 young children and their families over three years, is designed to to improve family reunification by strengthening the relationship between birth and foster parents.
  • $906,173 to The Alliance for Home-Based Child Care Supports to expand home-based child care operations. This effort will create jobs, creating at least 23 licensed programs that will add child care capacity in low- to moderate-income communities.

The Impact Fund also provides funding for a third-party researcher to monitor, collect data from, conduct evaluations of, and provide training to the recipient programs over the three-year funding period. The contract awards mark a significant milestone in the $10 million Early Childhood Impact Fund, a historic investment in Harris County’s youngest residents.

Virtual Community Conversations

In May and June 2020, the Harris County Judge's Office hosted twelve small group virtual dialogues on Early Childhood issues. Thirty parents and caregivers met to discuss their experiences raising children during a pandemic, their hopes and aspirations for their children and families across Harris County, and significant challenges affecting early childhood development at the local and national level.

Key Themes that emerged included:
    • Many parents don’t have a formalized and wide support network.
    • Parents need a trusted and reliable bank of resources about healthy development and milestones.
    • The social services landscape is difficult to understand and navigate, especially for those who are new to Harris County.
    • Time is a sacred commodity. Parents wish they had more time for their kids and themselves.
    • Workplace policies that enable healthy parenting are important.
    • Parents need basic needs met, including housing, food, and available childcare so that they can work.
You can read a full summary of the event here.

February 15th Community Conversation at the Health Museum

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, our Spring 2020 scheduled series of in-person Early Childhood Community Conversations was interrupted. However, we did host the first of our scheduled meetings on February 15, 2020 at the Health Museum. 130 participants, including parents, caregivers, and early childhood professionals met to discuss the biggest issues around early childhood.

Key Themes that emerged included:
  • Concerns over childcare accessibility
  • Desire to empower families through parent education, training, and engagement 
  • Demand for well-trained, well-compensated, well-supported educators and staff
  • Health and safety concerns for children
  • Need for coordinating non-profit work and resources

You can read a full summary of the event here and view a recap of the event here. If you missed this event, you can still send us your thoughts and ideas by completing the short form here.

COVID-19 Early Childhood Resources

This is a difficult time for everyone in our community and we hope you and your family are safe and healthy. Please see our list of Early Childhood-centered resources here. For more general COVID-19 resources, please visit the COVID-19 Resources & Recovery page on ReadyHarris.org.