For social workerstrained to look for signs of parental neglect, a child in dirty diapers day after day would certainly raise a red flag. But the reason for that sad sight — and for the real neglect — may lie in the difficulty families have in obtaining sufficient diapers.
It can cost $100 or more each month to keep a baby in diapers. Yet no safety-net program of any kind at the federal or state level provide recipients help with buying diapers. Very poor families get help for food through various federally supported programs, and sometimes receive assistance for housing, and specially targeted funds support programs for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). But WIC and food assistance programs cannot be used for diapers, and other programs like Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) do not provide a line especially dedicated to the additional expense of diapers. And, while federal law has come to recognize that diapers can be a medical “necessity” for adults and older children with special needs, no federal law makes that same point — that diapers are medical necessities for babies.
This gap in the safety net has broad implications, starting with basic health. When babies’ diapers are changed infrequently because their caregivers are trying to conserve, children are at increased risk of urinary tract and skin infections, and even for communicable diseases such as viral meningitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. Babies crying from spending hours in a soiled diaper are also at increased risk of abuse, while toddlers with soiled diapers may be rejected by other kids.
In addition to health, there is a connection between having money for diapers and sending your child to school and going to work yourself. Most day care centers, including free and subsidized facilities, will not admit a child who arrives without a day's supply of diapers (infants require up to 12 per day; toddlers about 8). Cloth diapers are not an option in many cases because most child care centers will not take them, and many families in need
do not have easy access to laundry facilities.
If you don’t have the diapers to take your child to child care, then you may not be able to go to work or to a training course. And, if you have federal aid, you could lose it, as many federal aid programs, such as TANF, have some work or training component. Eastside Baby Corner (EBC) addresses this dilemna by supplying ten local food banks and hundreds of individual children with diapers throughout the year. EBC provides, at no cost, over 400,000 diapers each year, distributed through social service agencies, hospitals, Public Health, the Department of Child and Family Services and schools, but that is only a fraction of the diapers needed in a state where more than 16% of children live below the federal poverty line ($22,050 for a family of four).
Beyond diapers, EBC takes in donations, purchases other goods such as formula and car seats, and gives out essential clothing, baby gear and products for local infants and children to families in need. Other area agencies such as WestSide Baby and St. Joseph’s Baby Corner also supply diapers and essential goods for children.
You can help struggling families by supporting local organizations such as Eastside Baby Corner, WestSide Baby or St. Joseph’s Baby Corner, as well recognizing that diapers are essential for the health and welfare of children and that administrative or legislative changes could help the change the future for a child and family.
About Eastside Baby Corner
Eastside Baby Corner helps kids thrive by providing basic necessities for children so that EBC’s partners — schools, social service agencies, food banks, hospitals — can help families become stable, safe, housed, fed and employed. Relying almost exclusively on volunteers, EBC takes in donations of children’s clothing and goods from the community and supplements donations with purchases of the absolute essentials for children: Baby food, formula, car seats, port-a-cribs and diapers. As the vital safety net under family-assistance providers, EBC annually distributes over 40,000 items for kids from birth to age 12 directly to nearly every agency serving families in east King County. Founded by pediatric nurse practitioner, Karen Ridlon in 1990, EBC helps more than 500 children each week.
Helen Banks Routon
Director of Fund Development and Community Relations
Eastside Baby Corner
PO Box 712
Issaquah, WA 98027
425-865-0234 ext 701
About the National Diaper Bank Network
The National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that every child in the United States has an adequate supply of diapers to remain clean, dry and healthy. Its mission is to raise awareness of diaper need and to build the capacity of diaper banks throughout the country by creating a national network of community partners. Since its inception in November 2011, the NDBN has provided more than 18 million diapers to families in need across the country and has developed a network that includes diaper banks and diaper pantries in more than 30 states. For more information please visit www.diaperbanknetwork.org.