The County Connection Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge

The County Connection
Lina Hidalgo | Harris County Judge
March 2022
In Harris County, we recognize that early childhood education is a make-or-break resource. We know that the positive effects of high quality early childhood programs endure throughout a child’s life, increasing their graduation rates and earnings while reducing their contact with the criminal justice system. These programs have one of the strongest returns on investment of any type of public program. Gun violence, public safety, economic opportunity, and public health – all societal challenges can be affected by quality early childhood programs.
I am proud to say that we have reached another critical milestone in Harris County’s early childhood education efforts. About 18 months ago, we created the Early Childhood Impact Fund (ECIF) and began a competitive process to find high-impact, evidence-based solutions for improving early childhood outcomes in Harris County. The ECIF attracted applicants from all over the state, nation, and even international organizations. Last month, Commissioners Court selected three programs to receive funding that complement each other in scope and intervention. They are:
  • The upWORDS Community-Based Universal and Targeted Intervention Model, implemented by Texas Children’s Hospital: A language and literacy development program that equips parents with resources to teach their young children. 20,000 children ages zero to three and their families in Harris County will receive children’s books or educational materials on early childhood development, 6,000 early childhood educators will receive training on child development, and up to 2,000 families will experience more intensive support through parenting classes, connection to developmental evaluations, maternal mental health home visits, or a variety of other programming.
  • The Safe Babies approach, implemented by the nonprofit First3Years: This initiative, which will be offered to 300 young children and their families over three years, is designed to to increase the percentage of foster kids who get reunited with their biological parents.
  • The Alliance for Home-Based Child Care Supports: This program is expected to support 60 providers and create at least 23 licensed programs that will add capacity in home-based child care which is in high demand but faces low availability and varying degrees of quality.
By investing in specific intersecting areas – language development, educator training, home-based child care, and protections for children in foster care – we stand the greatest chance to make meaningful change at a large scale. Together, these programs address development, coordinated care, and child care for the youngest Harris County residents, impacting tens of thousands of children. The programs will run for three years through 2025, with funding including a third-party evaluator to design and implement data collection and track program performance.
Harris County will no longer leave families to fend for themselves when it comes to finding early childhood resources and quality care. By committing to this roughly $8 million investment, the largest one-time investment in early childhood ever made by Commissioners Court, we are assuming a vital role in helping our most vulnerable children reach their full potential. The ECIF represents our best hope to have a long-term, scalable impact in early childhood education, and across the public spectrum.