According to the Children’s Bureau, at any given time, there are roughly 450,000 children in need of foster families in the United States. Deciding to become a foster parent is a huge, wonderful step, but navigating the system can be tricky. For many, becoming a foster parent means learning the ins and outs of Medicaid, their local Department of Children & Family Services, and WIC.

The WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) Program was founded in 1972 as a way to provide health and nutrition to low-income women, infants, and children up to age five. The program was made permanent in 1974 and is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WIC provides Federal grants to each state, and states in turn provide vouchers to participants in the program. Participants use the vouchers to purchase foods such as infant cereal, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, canned proteins, and whole grain breads at their local supermarkets and pharmacies.

All foster children under the age of five are automatically eligible for WIC. Enrolling is easy, but each state’s requirements are different, so be sure to check your state’s guidelines or call 1-800-WIC-1007. The first step will be to set up an appointment at your local WIC office to register your foster child. Thankfully, many WIC offices have hours on the weekends and evenings to accommodate working parents. At your appointment, you will need to provide a copy of the child’s immunization records and documentation that the child is in foster care. Documentation can include Department of Social Services (DSS) statements of foster care payments, or DSS documentation of the child’s foster care status. You will also need to provide proof of your state’s residence, such as a driver’s license with a current address. In some states, the child will need to be present at registration.

Once enrolled, the foster family will receive WIC checks, though some states have moved to eWIC, which essentially works like a debit card. To get you started, many states offer a food list/brochure of what is and is not accepted by WIC (see a sample from my home state of Virginia here). WIC checks are easy to use and redeemable at most grocery stores statewide. But WIC offers more than just a means to healthy eating. The program also provides immunizations, health screening, referrals to doctors and dentists, and can even assist in putting you in touch with programs like Head Start. Contact your local WIC office to learn more.

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. In a small government office in China, Jennifer became an adoptive mother. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!?” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at <a href=”//”></a>.