In Vermont one in seven children are food insecure. Women Infants and Children (WIC) is a federal program that provides nutrition education, breast feeding support and supplemental food to pregnant women, caregivers or parents with a child under the age of 5. WIC’s mission is to assure healthy pregnancies, healthy birth outcomes and healthy growth and development for women, infants and children up to age 5 by providing nutritious supplemental foods, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care and critical social services.
Despite all of these great benefits of participating in WIC, the national and statewide numbers have been declining. The Springfield Area Regional Council learned about this during a regional council meeting and understood the benefits that this program can have on a child’s development. We have been working on strategies to help make participation in WIC easier. Read on to learn more about the program and the work of our council.
Who is Eligible?
On average 11,427 Vermonters participate in WIC per month. The WIC program is serves children and families that might need a little extra help understanding nutrition, affording food, or who might need a bit of support. Eligibility includes people who:
- Live in Vermont
- Pregnant, breastfeeding and/or postpartum mothers
- Infant or child up to 5 years old
- Live in a household 185% below the federal poverty guidelines
- Are enrolled in Medicaid or Dr. Dynosaur
- Infants and children in the custody of friends or relatives may also be eligible
- Are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as Three Squares
What services do participants receive?
Those who participate in WIC meet with a nutritionist twice a year to go over the child’s growth and nutrition. These in-person appointments are also a time where caregivers can get their questions answered around nutrition, feeding, shopping and cooking by a knowledgeable WIC employee. It is really a time for families to learn and ask questions. In between these meetings families must complete a nutritional activity to stay eligible for benefits. These can include an online activity, a group activity such as how to make baby food or healthy Halloween treats, or a phone call check-in with someone from the WIC office.
Families are able to shop for WIC eligible food at participating grocery stores. Some of the WIC foods include eggs, milk, cheese, whole grains, peanut butter, vegetables and fruits. For infants who are not breastfed, WIC can provide supplemental amounts of formula as well. If you want to find out more about WIC foods make sure to check out this link.
WIC offices are also able to offer advice, education and even a free breast pump to nursing mothers to aid them in their breast feeding needs. They are also able to consult with employers if they are interested in learning more about a breast feeding friendly environment.
Springfield Area Regional BBF Council’s Response
The Springfield School District is working with its 15 PreK partner programs that serve over 300 children to help families meet their nutritional activity. Many, if not all of these preschool programs already conduct nutrition and physical movement activities with children on a regular basis. The Springfield School District entered into a partnership with the local District Health Office to create a system to ensure that families receiving WIC benefits could count the nutrition activities already occurring within child care programs. As part of the agreement, infants and toddlers enrolled in the participating child care program can qualify as well. Programs complete a form regarding the activity and submit for approval. Once approved, monthly attendance is then submitted for the children participating in WIC and their nutrition education activity requirement has been satisfied. The goal is to reduce the number of children experiencing either a disruption or discontinuance of benefits because of these activities not being met. Child care providers also have an increased understanding of WIC and as an additional benefit programs are able to also act as a conduit between the family and WIC. This has been supportive for families who had previously lost benefits or had not participated in the program. Although this partnership is new, we look forward to seeing the impact it will have on our families and the possibility of spreading this partnership to other school districts or supervisory unions as well as Starting Points groups.