WARMRegards March 2019: Reaching and Retaining in All Demographics
Welcome to WARMRegards! We’ve recently restarted our popular e-newsletter aimed at helping WIC agencies discover the latest developments in technology, applications, and tips-of-the-trade. It’s our goal to support you in reaching and retaining more WIC clients.
Depending on where your clinic is based, you may notice more clients of one or two particular ethnicities as opposed to others. However, there are likely large segments of your area population that remain untapped. Reaching out to mothers from different cultures is an important way to build and maintain your client base, and your approach will vary from culture to culture. The important thing to keep in mind is that many mothers may not be aware of their eligibility or status, and may need your help to navigate the system in an easy-to-understand way.
How WIC Serves Different Ethnicities
In a 2012 study by the USDA, WIC enrollment data was collected and categorized by race. The total representation by race breaks down as follows:
- White/Hispanic: 58%
- Black: 20%
- American Indian: 12%
- Multi-race: 5%
- Asian: 3%
- Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 1%
- No race reported: 1%
A look at the race representation by region shows that numbers vary greatly depending on the demographic makeup of the area. For example, clinics in the Southeast will have higher numbers of African Americans because they have higher African American populations, while the Northwest will have higher numbers of Pacific Islanders.
A study published in “Breastfeeding Medicine” showed that WIC services varied greatly depending on the ethnic makeup of the clients served. WIC clinics that served predominantly Hispanic areas were more likely to provide a wider variety of services than other clinics. Clinics in which African Americans were the majority had the lowest likelihood of providing breastfeeding services. These clinics were also likely to have lower numbers of services provided overall, meaning the African American community was largely under-served and might be hesitant to participate in WIC as a result.
While your clinic may be successfully serving the ethnic groups that make up the majority in your area, other ethnic groups may be under-served or unaware of your services. There are actions you can take to ensure you’re reaching all eligible moms in your service area and retaining those moms as their children age.
Establishing Culturally Sensitive Outreach
Outreach that’s targeted to the needs of the different demographics in your region can help you encourage participation from ethnicities that might be under-served. When the California WIC Association noticed that a number of the African American moms in their state might not be aware of their services, they launched the Ask the Community First Initiative to “encourage culturally sensitive engagement via targeted outreach and marketing efforts.” They did this by establishing a task force to work with the African American community to discover barriers to participation — and they found that some African Americans felt that California WIC lacked cultural competency. Another issue uncovered was that the ethnicity of the staff at WIC clinics didn’t always match the ethnicity of the clients; it wasn’t representational of the client base being served.
The Initiative found issues that could easily translate to other WIC clinics as well, including:
- Lack of transportation options
- Ineffective use of technology that could improve accessibility
- Inconvenient hours of operation
- Outdated marketing materials that do not represent all ethnicities
Some simple steps your clinic can follow to be more culturally sensitive include establishing satellite offices or helping with transportation needs, incorporating websites or apps that distribute information quickly and easily, shifting hours of operation to hours that work with all work schedules, and creating marketing materials that show people of color. It’s also crucial that you provide as many services as possible, so mothers can fully benefit from WIC participation.
Breaking Down the Language Barrier
Another barrier to WIC participation is language. Wilder Research reports that many non-English speakers are often confused about their WIC status or if they are eligible to participate in WIC. They may not understand what services are available to them and how they can get access to those services. They also have difficulty calling for appointments and may avoid it altogether, rather than trying to deal with a translator.
What can you do to break down the language barrier in your clinic? Hiring bilingual staff helps bridge the gap. Because many WIC clients speak Spanish as their first (or only) language, staff should be able to speak English and Spanish to serve a wider range of clients.
For clients that speak other languages, or when hiring bilingual staff isn’t possible, try a seamless translation service that provides on-demand translation, as well as document translating. Using a translator during an appointment can be difficult and time-consuming, especially when there are long wait times to get a translator on the line. Busy moms won’t have time for such lengthy appointments and may forgo benefits to avoid the hassle. You’ll want to use a multilingual WIC intake app or an on-demand translator so you can provide your non-English clients with appointments that are informative, without taking up too much of their time.
If clients are hesitant to come to your clinic, providing them with information in their own language is important. You can post this information on your website using a messaging service or text keyword ads to inform moms of your services. There, you can provide documents in the client’s preferred language, as well as helpful and informative videos they can understand. This information should help them with eligibility, enrollment, continued participation, and understanding the services you provide. It would also be helpful for moms to have access to information about common concerns, like breastfeeding and nutrition.
When dealing with moms from varying cultures and backgrounds, your best bet is to support them with materials in their home language, work to accommodate their cultural differences, and make them feel welcome and included at your clinic. This kind of culturally sensitive outreach can help you gain more participants and retain them longer, which will benefit you and them in the long run.
By Shela Ward
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