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Hopkins/USDA Participant Research Innovation Laboratory for Enhancing WIC Services


The Hopkins/USDA Participant Research Innovation Laboratory for Enhancing WIC Services (HPRIL)

This research innovation lab, a partnership between Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), will fund and support 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. This lab seeks to answer the question: Will eligible families participate in WIC longer if we improve services with new tools, more specifically will 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Research suggests many barriers to participation, including outdated program management processes and the quality of service delivery in clinic and retail settings.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 will HPRIL contribute to this work?

HPRIL will fund and support 3-5 local WIC agency projects lasting 18 months. These agencies will be chosen through a competitive RFP process. HPRIL will assist funded agencies in strengthening their implementation and evaluation plans and provide technical assistance throughout the project. HPRIL will also evaluate impact across all projects and compile training and technical assistance materials for other local WIC agencies to use beyond the project.  

Projects will focus specifically on using 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 is to effectively demonstrate how local agencies can use existing WIC data collection and monitoring tools to target and monitor child retention efforts, a practice that could be scaled nationally. Learn more.

Finally, HPRIL will also offer technical assistance to USDA-FNS-funded Special Project Grants working on retention. Learn more.

Why now?

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.

Want to join us?

Are you a local WIC agency interested in applying for funding? Check out more details about the project requirements and how to apply, here: Learn more.

Are you doing some innovative work related to WIC child retention? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch by sending an email to Martelle Esposito at