WINDOW ROCK, AZ -- The Navajo WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program is enjoying success and working with families in educating, mentoring, providing nutrition supplemental support and reaching out to more than 8,000 young mothers every month.
“We are seeing a reduction in mothers who are requesting our services”. Hank Haskie, the Program Manager, isn’t sure why. “We have our suspicion about the declining participation level, however our answer isn’t evidence based on scientific information backed by extensive research. My hope is the nutrition and breastfeeding education and counseling is being taken seriously by the participants.”
NWIC is a federal grant program funded by Congressional appropriations to States, territories, and tribal organizations. Some of these entities supplement their federal grant with their own funds, but Navajo Nation does not provide local funding support. NWIC agencies provide nutrition screening and education, specific supplemental foods, breastfeeding support, and referrals to healthcare and social services for income-eligible women who are pregnant or post-partum, infants, and children up to age 5.
“The nutrition supplements provided are scientifically formulated by the USDA to give these young families a great foundation for the future of their health,” Haskie said. “The supplemental foods and the education are important for these families.”
It’s significant the NWIC Nutrition Program is enjoying success because the challenges faced by this organization are unlike any other WIC program.
“Whenever you look at a program for the Navajo people, you have to take into account the logistics,” Haskie added. “Our reservation is over 27,000 square miles – the size of West Virginia and larger than eight other states. Our people are spread out over the Navajo Nation, so we have to create ways to reach them. We have set up satellite field offices and clinics, taken advantage of available transportation system, and more, yet it seems we are not doing enough to reach the isolated parents and the children.”
The Navajo Nation has a strong public transportation system in place to help the people and users get to one of the 110 chapters on or near the reservation. There are members who live in remote areas of the reservation accessible only through dirt roads and where the public transportation can’t reach. Cell phone signals and internet connections are spotty and, in many cases, non-existent. These are examples of some of the barriers that need to be crossed-over.
“We make appointments, send our staff members out to contact the mothers and more, but life’s events sometimes make is difficult or impossible for these young families to make an appointment date. So, we have to be very creative to make sure we try and contact every young family who needs help,” Haskie added. “We don’t stop making the attempt to connect.”
Constantly looking for ways to improve and upgrade the program, NWIC program partners with five other State WIC programs to implement an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) program and a state of the art data collection system to make it easier to connect and service the families as well as to administer the program. The Navajo is one of the early adopters of the EBT program, which the federal government is making mandatory for all WIC program by 2020.
“For years, the WIC program was based on sending out food instruments (checks) to families,” Haskie pointed out. “The problem with checks, was that the families had to spend the entire amount at one trip. With the EBT program, we don’t send out checks anymore, the cards are re-chargeable, and families can buy a few items, or spend the entire allotment. The process makes it more convenient for the family, is more efficient and saves the program a great deal of money. The stigma of receiving WIC services is minimized, as the participants blend into the regular shopping experiences.”
The Navajo program of approximately 50 staff members, 9 administrators, and 12 field clinics is doing its job – and doing it well. However, Haskie will quickly point out that the success behind the program comes directly from “those in the field”.
“We can create the best program in the world and throw huge amounts of money at it, but if the execution doesn’t happen, the program will fail,” Haskie said. “So, give credit to the WIC staff who tirelessly face the logistic challenge, the educational challenge, and so many changes to ensure a very successful program. My hat is off to the staff of the Navajo WIC program.”
Feature Courtesy of the Navajo Nation Department of Health