The Hopkins/USDA Participant Research Innovation Laboratory for Enhancing WIC Services (HPRIL)
HPRIL, a partnership between Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 2018. HPRIL provided funding and support to projects in communities across the country, to test the impact of innovative management, clinical, and retail tools on long-term family engagement with the WIC program. WIC is a government program that provides nutrition education, breastfeeding education and support, referrals to health care and social services, and healthy foods for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5. HPRIL sought to answer the question: Will eligible families participate in WIC longer if we improve services with new tools, more specifically, will more eligible children come back to WIC for recertification within 14 months (retention)?
What’s the problem?
Retention of eligible children in the program is a challenge. Over 75% of eligible infants currently participate in the WIC program. But, at age 1 that number starts to decline and continues declining with each birthday. Just over 25% of eligible 4-year-olds currently participate in the program. Learn more.
Why do we care whether families choose to engage with WIC during childhood?
We know that children who participate in WIC have better health and cognitive development outcomes compared to their non-participating peers. Learn more.
Why are families not choosing WIC as their children grow older?
Research suggests many barriers to participation, including outdated program management processes and the quality of service delivery in clinic and retail settings. Learn more.
What are people doing about it?
WIC programs across the country have been working on this issue, and USDA-FNS has funded many demonstration projects studying how to keep children engaged with WIC longer. There is a lot of promising work out there and some evidence of positive impacts. Learn more.
How does HPRIL contribute to this work?
HPRIL provided funding and support to five local WIC agency projects over an 18-month time period. The agencies were chosen through a competitive RFP process. HPRIL assisted the funded agencies through strengthening their implementation and evaluation plans and provided technical assistance to build capacity throughout the project. HPRIL also evaluated the impact across all projects and compiled training and technical assistance materials for other local WIC agencies to use after the project.
Projects focused specifically on using their WIC management information systems (MIS), WIC’s participant information databases, to help identify children at risk for not returning to the program, identify service gaps, and evaluate the impact of selected innovative tools on retention. Collectively, the goal was to effectively demonstrate how local agencies can utilize existing WIC data collection and monitoring tools to target and monitor child retention efforts, and provide evidence for how the practice can be scaled nationally.
Finally, HPRIL also offered technical assistance to USDA-FNS-funded Special Project Grants working to improve WIC services.
First, WIC is buzzing with innovation. Innovative tools are helping to streamline management processes and improve participant clinic and retails experiences. While there have been many tools developed and implemented over the past several years, few have been studied for impact on retention. HPRIL provides an opportunity to study the impact of some of these and other tools on child retention.
Second, WIC has been investing in MIS and electronic benefit delivery for more than a decade. While MIS vary by state, they offer a largely untapped resource for local agency programs to employ a systematic, cost-neutral, data-driven approach to their child retention efforts.