Child Well-being Movement

Child Well-being Movement



Foster Care Awareness Month

McLennan County has a disproportionately large number of children in its foster care system compared to counties of the same size. Recent reports show there are around 1,000 children in the foster care system in McLennan County. This past year, around 387 children received placements into the foster care system in our county. Texas is transitioning to a community-based care model for foster care that relies on community members and nonprofits to care for and support foster care families and children. McLennan County is under-resourced to support this model and as a result, almost half of children in McLennan County’s foster care system are sent to families in other counties, taking them further away from their hometowns. These children spend an average of 23 months in the foster care system and change homes an average of five times before they are adopted. This defeats the purpose of the community-based care model and emphasizes the need for action in our community to support our children and families working through foster care.

To prepare for our turn to make the transition to a community-based care model, our county has begun the work of creating an infrastructure where the community is able to support the foster care system and foster care families in a variety of ways. You do not need to be a foster family to impact the lives of these children. The Families and Foster Care Coalition of the Heart of Texas is working to bring awareness to the ways our community can support children in foster care. The coalition has outlined a variety of ways in which the community can get involved to support children and families working through foster care. You can find out more on their Facebook page.

Locally, we know that childcare shortages are impacting children and families. Have you ever considered how families of children in foster care might be impacted? Many families choose not to foster, citing a lack of childcare as a primary reason that keeps them from saying ‘yes.’ We’ve heard directly from McLennan County residents through our Child Well-being Movement work, that when seeking to expand childcare offerings locally, consideration needs to be given to ensure adequate seats for children in foster care. As a result, it is our hope that more families would answer the call to foster, so that more McLennan County children can stay close to home, with the potential of familial reunification.  

May is National Foster Care Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness of the many children and youth in the foster care system in the U.S., and the caseworkers and families who compassionately serve them. If you want to get involved in this space locally, visit


Pre-K Program Awareness

We had so much fun at Pre-K Awareness Day, hosted by the Junior League of Waco at the Mayborn Museum on Saturday, April 15th. Pre-K Awareness Day is an informational event put on every year that brings McLennan County Pre-K programs together to raise awareness for the Power of Pre-K. Each Pre-K eligible child that attends receives a free t-shirt and a Pre-K readiness kit, parents receive information about how to enroll their children in local Pre-K programs, and families get to enjoy a free day exploring the Museum. Thanks to the Junior League of Waco for their leadership in this effort!

We love any opportunity to be out in the community, interacting with kids and families, and sharing local resources to ensure our neighbors’ needs are being met. At the event, we were able to share with dozens of families about the work of the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement and the strategies we are working on, as defined by community residents, in our Community Action Plan. It’s important to us that the community at-large is aware of how we, along with numerous community partners and parent voices, are working on behalf of county children and families to ensure every child has the tools they need to succeed in life.

Pre-K is a stepping stone towards ensuring kindergarten readiness. In Pre-K programs, children gain valuable social and emotional skills as well as a head start on academic learning before entering kindergarten. This builds a foundation of preparedness to learn and acquire even more skills in the elementary school setting. A strong early learning foundation before kindergarten can lead to positive outcomes later on in life by contributing to career and workforce readiness.

Last year, in the McLennan County region, an average of 72% of children in county school districts were kindergarten-ready. In a handful of districts, the percentage ranges from 61%-66%. Let’s imagine, together, a county where all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. How would our society transform? A Georgia study predicted state government savings related to juvenile justice, welfare and education would produce a total return of $5.12 for every $1 invested in Pre-K. Beyond the economic impact, communities would become more resilient, healthy and whole as a result of providing their children a foundation of early learning. Let’s continue to link arms to ensure McLennan County becomes such a community!


Data: TPEIR via Waco RoundTable


Week of the Young Child 2023 is kicking off this Saturday, April 1st! We’ll be celebrating the impact of early childhood education on our communities throughout the week of April 1st – 7th.

As you are likely aware by now, our community-wide initiative, the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement, has developed a Community Action Plan which includes strategies to address the need for more high-quality early learning opportunities and stronger supports for McLennan County families that in turn can provide a foundation of well-being for the more than 21,000 children between the ages of 0-5 living in McLennan County. These strategies are included in our action plan because the community has voiced them as a priority for the strengthening of our local communities and because the data supports it.

A study done by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that childcare issues result in an estimated $9.39 billion loss annually for Texas’s economy – this includes $1.8 billion lost annually in tax revenue due to childcare issues, and absences and employee turnover that costs Texas employers an estimated $7.59 billion per year.

The average cost of childcare per household in Texas is $611, with some families paying even more and many parents citing the cost burden of childcare as cause for having to delay job offers, pursue higher education, or leave the workforce altogether.

Looking deeper into the local level, 65% of McLennan County children live in a childcare desert, as compared to 48% statewide, and 42% of local parents surveyed were challenged by having to be put on a waiting list for childcare.

To top things off, in 2019 the median wage for child care workers was $10.15 per hour, with some being paid as low as $8.50. That’s right – you could make more money working for Buccee’s than in a childcare center.

Across the state, we’re seeing waitlists for childcare centers increase as childcare teachers are leaving the workforce due to low pay, resulting in centers having to shut down classrooms. Meanwhile, parents are having to make the decision to stay at home rather than spend their entire paycheck on childcare tuition, which, for many, equates to the cost of a second mortgage.

We view early childhood education as the bedrock of our society, supporting children’s development and preparing them to be skillful participants in our nation’s workforce and society in the decades to come. Likewise, early childhood educators serve our nation and local communities daily as “the workforce behind the workforce.” Think about it—and since we’ve all lived through the Covid-19 pandemic, odds are you already have—if early childhood educators left their profession, childcare centers across the country would be forced to shut down, parents would be forced to leave their jobs to return home to care for their children, and companies across the U.S. would be forced to streamline and potentially close business altogether, leaving our economy floundering. Sounds pretty drastic, right? That’s because it is.

The childcare industry is in crisis, and until we can find innovative approaches that will allow for higher wages for childcare workers, lower tuition costs to families, and make more childcare seats available, we’ll continue to see losses to child development, our workforce, and our economy both in the near- and long-term. 

And that’s why we’ve made it our mission to shore up our local community’s childcare landscape, focusing on things like access, affordability, quality and childcare teacher pay. We’re beginning to look to the business community for support in taking innovative approaches to shoring up our childcare infrastructure locally so that our city and county’s economy can thrive. We’re also participating in statewide, bi-partisan advocacy efforts to ensure adequate state investments in meeting our state’s childcare needs.

If you’d like to join the movement to enhance our early childhood education landscape, contact


The impact framework that we utilize to fund programs in Waco-McLennan County has education woven throughout the goals and strategies we identified during conversations with local community members. We are committed to the education of students in Waco-McLennan County and people of all ages. We focus on providing equitable access to educational opportunities for everyone to ensure childhood and youth success. We focus on educating the workforce through skill development and resources that allow individuals to participate in adult education. We focus on supportive classes for parents and fostering meaningful connections between family members and their child’s school.

Our Community Action Plan dives into more detail on what the community has identified as ways to continue our commitment to education. Our top priorities include ensuring equitable access to educational opportunities for kids across all communities, including more creative and affordable out-of-school activities for children, and ensuring access to free or low-cost educational opportunities for the whole family within community programming.

We ensure equitable access by working to provide a variety of innovative extracurricular programs (with bilingual options) that are responsive to the needs of all kids across all county schools systems. We also attempt to identify and remove barriers to children attending existing community programs by offering a variety of free or low-cost quality programming for children. In pursuit of this goal, we strive to implement targeted marketing strategies to promote existing community programs to families across all communities.

We seek to include more creative and affordable out-of-school activities for children by prioritizing ensuring access to out-of-school activities (including the arts, physical activities, and other culturally-affirming programing) for children of color. We look for opportunities to partner with city & county government to support and fund out-of-school activities. We also strive to partner with organizations to host more full-day summer programming sites across the community in pursuit of this goal.

As part of our holistic, whole family approach, we focus on promoting and expanding two-generational approaches to programs that allow parents to participate in their own educational pursuits and simultaneously engage children in early learning activities. We are committed to seeing every family in Waco-McLennan County thrive. Our commitment to education and increasing access to educational opportunities is part of a long-term vision of the future of Waco-McLennan County that our community has defined.

As a convener and collaborator in our community, we are actively bringing together partners to collaborate on addressing these community-identified strategies. If you wish to be a part, reach out to us at


In 2022, United Way spearheaded the process of joining Early Matters, a statewide collaborative of business, civic, education, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders dedicated to economic mobility and prosperity for all Texas families. The collaborative is focused on strategic investments in both policies and practices that support children birth through age 8. Represented in the statewide entity are the major regions of our state (Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio) and Waco/McLennan County is the newest member!

With the launch of the Child Well-being Movement, we saw a clear alignment with the efforts of Early Matters and our movement’s focus for all McLennan County children to be well. Many of the strategies in our Community Action Plan highlight specific areas for local change, but many also illuminate the need for change at the state and systems levels. As such, we knew that we needed to get connected to advocacy work happening within our state that would trickle down to enact change in McLennan County. 

As the 88th Legislative Session is in full swing, Early Matters is hyper focused on influencing state policy that is aligned with our goals. We bring stakeholder voices to the capitol to ensure policy is informed by data and real-world experience. Our local role in this is to ensure that the needs shared with us by McLennan County residents are being reflected in the coalition’s statewide advocacy work.

For the 88th legislative session, we seek to:

  • Strengthen Local Workforce Boards
    • Ensure local workforce boards have the standards and supports needed to maximize funding, improve transparency, and provide families access to high-quality child care.
  • Additional Policy We Support
    • Strengthening the child care workforce
    • Helping parents get back to work with affordable child care and Pre-K
    • Investing in the child care infrastructure in Texas

Learn more from our coalition’s advocacy partners: Download “88th Session Early Childhood Education Legislative Agenda (PDF)”

If you’re interested in supporting the advocacy work of Early Matters, please visit our website, scroll to the bottom and sign up to receive action alerts throughout the session. In addition, we encourage you to contact your legislators and share with them the importance of a statewide investment in the child care sector so that we can strengthen our current workforce and prepare the workforce of tomorrow.


If you’ve read or even heard about the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement, you know that it is a movement all about TAKING ACTION for children and families. This was a resounding theme that residents shared with us throughout the community listening process.

McLennan County is known by many for its collaborative spirit and for being a county whose residents embody a willingness to work together to take on the tough issues. However, it’s important that we don’t stop there. Working together to take on issues like child well-being requires more than meetings, more than community listening sessions, and more than reports. No matter title, position, or location, people agree that it’s time for our community to move past the “let’s talk about it” phase and get started on the difficult work ahead of making impactful change for children and families.

This was our guiding vision for putting together our Community Action Plan, a document with actionable next steps, created by community, for community. We’re determined to make sure that community residents see results in the areas that matter most to them. But we certainly know that change doesn’t happen alone. That’s why we’ve rallied troops from across many community sectors to come together in collaboration and work to see the strategies and action steps in the plan take shape.

Partners from healthcare, education, economic development, housing, early childhood, parks & recreation, and many more sectors came together in a series of 3 meetings this month to take inventory of existing work underway where partnership could allow for expansion of needed programming, and to identify partnership roles for implementation of the plan’s strategies. In the New Year, these partners and more will meet again to identify target timelines and measures to track progress on implementation of the various action steps.

Meanwhile, some of the work is already underway! We shared in last month’s article about the Language Justice Initiative that United Way and the Hispanic Leaders Network have developed and launched based on community requests for more language supports in McLennan County. In addition, the City of Waco’s Housing and Community Development team are using the action plan’s strategies around neighborhoods and housing to inform their internal strategies so that they can get to work on responding to the community’s desires for thriving neighborhoods and affordable housing.

We are committed to seeing the community’s vision come to life. Some pieces will take shape quickly, while some will take time, but we won’t stop until McLennan County is a place where every child, individual and family can thrive.

If you’re interested in being a part of implementation of the action plan’s strategies, reach out to Haley O’Connell at to learn more.

This work is made possible with funding and support from Episcopal Health Foundation and the Prenatal to Three Collaborative.

To learn more about the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement and view the Community Action Plan, one can visit


Community members and residents of McLennan County have made it clear, and I think we would all agree, that it’s time to move from talk to action when it comes to ensuring kids and families in our community are well supported. Likewise, partners across McLennan County are gearing up to take action on the Community Action Plan’s identified strategies.

This month, we want to highlight an area of the action plan that has already moved from talk to action. The Hispanic Leaders Network is coming alongside the work of the Child Well-being Movement to lead out in a language justice initiative focused on ensuring the accessibility of local resources and information in McLennan County residents’ desired language.

The Language Justice sub-committee of the Hispanic Leaders Network has defined ‘language justice’ for McLennan County as “the commitment of our community to support an individual’s fundamental right to communicate in the language in which they feel most comfortable and confident by creating multilingual spaces that foster cultural pride, diversity, and equity.”

In the Action Plan’s ‘Increase Access to Resources’ Focus Area, community members outlined a strategy to “Provide local resources (staff, programs, information) in Spanish throughout community services.” Implementation of this strategy includes the creation of a language justice plan, an awareness campaign, provision of interpreter certification classes and interpretation devices.

United Way and the Hispanic Leaders Network are working to develop this plan to be shared with entities throughout McLennan County and launch an awareness campaign focused on building an understanding of both the importance and need for language justice in our community. The plan identifies prominently spoken languages in McLennan County, community needs, and ideas for implementation of language inclusive strategies in local organizations and services. In addition, the Hispanic Leaders Network is working to become an interpretation hub by providing interpretation certification training courses and interpretation devices that can be used by local individuals or organizations for their translation needs to ensure that community meetings and events can be more language inclusive.

We are excited to see these strategies already taking shape and for the impact they will have in our community. Stay tuned for more updates about the roll-out of this initiative coming soon!

This work is made possible with funding and support from Episcopal Health Foundation.

To learn more about the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement and view the Community Action Plan, one can visit


McLennan County Child Well-being Video

We may not be dragon-slayers, and we aren’t quite superheroes, but we ARE a collaborative of residents and community partners dedicated to ensuring McLennan County children ages 0-5 and their families can thrive.

You may have heard the phrase that United Way of Waco-McLennan County works as a convener, a collaborator and a funder, but you may still be wondering what exactly that means and how it plays out through the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement.

As a convener, we bring people together to work towards making changes that our community wants and needs by listening to parents and residents of communities across McLennan County. This is what led us to catalyze the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement. We create spaces to convene community partners to align efforts and collaborate for change.

True collaboration, we believe, happens in partnership with professionals and service providers in our community alongside parents and residents who have dreams and aspirations for their children and families. Collaborating together in this way allows for maximum impact because no single individual or entity can tackle our community’s challenges alone, and it ensures that everyone gets their needs met. Collaboration also gives way to creative community solutions to our county’s most pressing issues and provides accountability for taking action.

Lastly, the dollars we raise thanks to YOU, allow us to invest directly into those community solutions by funding local programs that work hard to meet the needs of our community. All of the dollars we raise locally stay local through the work of McLennan County nonprofits dedicated to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to thrive. 

To learn more about the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement and view the Community Action Plan, one can visit

This work is made possible with funding and support from both local and state-level partners: Waco Foundation, Episcopal Health Foundation, and The Texas Prenatal-to-Three Collaborative. United Way acknowledges Waco Foundation as the founding local leader of this work before it transitioned to United Way in 2018.


United Way and our partners in the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement have launched a Community Action Plan designed by residents of McLennan County to address the needs of local children and families.

You may remember that in May of 2021, we released the “Are the Children Well?” report which captured the current condition of McLennan County’s children ages 0-5 and their families, and the aspirations of parents and county residents to create a community in which all children can thrive. Check out that report here. Since then, community members have continued to collaborate and develop solutions to the county’s most pressing issues, as identified in the report, which has resulted in a Community Action Plan.

The movement’s Community Advisory Board and Core Partner Team members spent countless hours (around 26, to be exact!) synthesizing a list of priority solutions shared with us by residents of McLennan County through community conversations and surveying, which has now become a set of strategies and action steps that the community wishes to see take place in support of children and families.

This Action Plan will serve as the bedrock of United Way’s work and funding strategies moving forward, and will be shared with city and county leadership and various stakeholders in an effort to aid local decision-making.

Just as it took the partnership of numerous residents and organizational representatives to design the action plan, it will take even more partners to carry out its strategies. Many county entities have already agreed to take action on these strategies and with their dedication to seeing each action step through to completion, we will see sustained progress in our community over time. This fall, these county organizations will meet to discuss next steps in partnership and develop the various components necessary for implementation of the strategies and action steps outlined in the plan.

To learn more about the McLennan County Child Well-being Movement and view the Community Action Plan, one can visit

This work is made possible with funding and support from both local and state-level partners: Waco Foundation, Episcopal Health Foundation, and The Texas Prenatal-to-Three Collaborative. United Way acknowledges Waco Foundation as the founding local leader of this work before it transitioned to United Way in 2018.

“As a United Way CIC member, I’ve had the opportunity to champion the way forward at increasing the equity in grant-making. Collectively, we strive to move the dial in a direction whereby funded programs are representative of the communities they serve.”

Paula Solano, 2021 Community Investment Council Member

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