Brighter Futures for Harris County Kids

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo is leading an effort to invest in the futures of young children and families 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 has dug deep to explore what Harris County can offer to help each new generation grow up stronger, safer, and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. 

The Brighter Futures for Harris County Kids Initiative, informed by research and data collected from Harris County families, caregivers, and early childhood experts, so far includes over $80 million of investments in early childhood meant to improve outcomes for its youngest residents. This initiative is the largest allocation of funding for children in Harris County history and the largest known investment of ARPA dollars by any county or city in the nation for early childhood development and education.

The strategic package of county programs and resources will invest in three key areas:
  1. Developmental Support: Early developmental programs to achieve brain and language milestones
  2. Parent Support: Programs to support new parents' ability to care for the health of their babies and for themselves
  3. Child Care & Early Childhood Education: Increasing accessible and quality child care and early childhood education throughout the county.

This historical investment is shining a light on how local governments can improve the lives of residents for the long term. Click here for a breakdown of Brighter Futures for Harris County Kids programs and dollar investments.

Maternal & Child Health Program

Becoming a new mother should be a special time in a woman’s life, but many women in Harris County lack the necessary resources and access to best care for their own and their baby’s health. In July 2022, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the $7.7 million Maternal and Child Health Program, an evidence-based home visitation program that aims to improve and expand access to health care for Harris County mothers and children. In particular, it will address the alarming rates of maternal mortality among African American women in Harris County, who are three times more likely to die than the national average and 10 times more likely to die compared to women overall in industrialized countries.

The home visitation program will match approximately 300 moms and their children in four cohorts lasting about two years each, and will guide them through the process of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. The coordinators will provide these mothers with all of the support they need to be safe and healthy during a very vulnerable time in their lives. Visits will include wellness checks, prenatal care, and connections to healthcare and other needed services. This program will also serve children directly by connecting them to health care at an early age to ensure that critical early developmental health milestones are reached and any conditions that arise are caught and treated early.

Child Care Contracted Slots Program

In June 2022, Harris County Commissioners Court made history by approving the $48 million Child Care Contracted Slots program, the largest known investment of ARPA dollars by any county or city in the nation for early childhood education. The program will increase accessibility to high quality childcare and early childhood development by 10% in Harris County and create up to 1,000 child care slots for children ages zero to three, with an emphasis on communities where there are few to no such options. It will help families afford child care, which is the second most expensive household item on average after housing in the family budget. The program will also assist childcare centers recover and stabilize financially after the pandemic, support ongoing capacity-building for childcare providers, give a boost to workers by requiring participating childcare centers to pay staff $15 an hour, and help mothers with newfound childcare return to work.

Lead Abatement and Prevention Program

In Harris County, 122,000 homes built prior to 1978 are potentially at risk for lead-based paint hazards. Children living below the poverty line – of which there are 19,000 in Harris County – have a higher probability of residing in these homes, which places them at higher risk of lead exposure, which has been shown to have enormous detrimental effects. In February 2022, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Court approved $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to expand the county’s Lead Abatement and Prevention Program (LAPP). The funds will cover lead hazard abatement, blood level testing, 20 full time employees to oversee the program, and supplies, travel, and outreach with the goal of 800 units abated and 20,000 tests conducted over four years. Harris County Public Health previously tested 1,500 children annually for elevated blood-lead levels and tested and renovated about 60 homes and child-occupied structures, such as daycares, annually.

Child Tax Credit Outreach Program

One in five children in Harris county live in poverty and almost half of those live with a family income below half of the poverty line. In 2021, due to the added hardship brought on by the pandemic, the federal government offered some relief for families with children in the form of heightened child tax credits, manifesting in cash payments for families with children who filed their taxes. However, up to an estimated 30,000 Harris County children were living in households who were at risk of not filing their taxes and therefore missing out on the expanded child tax credit cash payments, meaning a loss of up to $90 million in aid for families in need. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo approved the $500,000 Child Tax Credit Outreach Program to ensure families got the help they needed to file their taxes, including tax assistance clinics, in-person and phone consultations, and marketing in multiple languages about services to help families sign up. Outreach and in-person filing assistance was also made available at specific areas like clinics, libraries, food banks, and places of worship. The program brought in over $13 million in tax credits for Harris County families.

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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.

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.