The inability to afford diapers, a unique but essential resource, combined with the pandemic is a huge problem for families living in poverty. Many parents are scrambling to fill the need, with non-profit founder Chelsea Presley reporting that requests for assistance in diaper banks have tripled and even quadrupled in some locations. Families are even lining up for hours in some communities just to get diaper supplies.
Babies of Homelessness has seen an increase of requests for diapers by more than 309% and plan on delivering 25% more diapers by the end of next year.
The need for diapers is severely under-researched. Estimates have shown that between 29% to 36% of families struggle to afford diapers. The shortage has also caused companies to raise their prices, making it a dire situation for a third of families who were unable to afford diapers pre-COVID. This has caused distress and a great financial burden to parents, especially during the pandemic recession as millions of people lost their jobs. A study by the California State University’s sociology program found that women tracked their baby’s urine output down to the ounce. Because they’re living from paycheck to paycheck, they do this to feel that they’re getting the most out of every buck. And while needs like baby formula, food, and other needs for pregnant women and young children are subsidized by certain programs, most do not cover diapers.
Homeless families are especially vulnerable in this case, particularly homeless infants and toddlers. In fact, 1 in 14 children under age six in Washington are experiencing homelessness right now. Without a home and access to hygienic facilities and diapers, children are more susceptible to diseases. Babies in these situations can run the risk of infections, as well as diaper rashes. This also places additional financial strain on parents, caregivers, or orphanages.
How it Has Impacted Families
One of the most obvious ways families are affected by the shortage of diapers is in terms of their finances. However, there are also social factors that can contribute to the stress they experience. For instance, needing diapers is associated with a stigma that may be viewed even more negatively than needing food assistance. Bodily functions are still considered taboo by most people, even if they don’t express it outright.
Some parents might also be shamed about not being able to provide for their children’s necessities, especially single parents. Single mothers, in particular, have been affected by the shortage and expense of this particular need. Many have been left to contend with debt, food insecurity, and even homelessness. Worst of all, they face being judged while doing so. As a result of this stigma, diaper need has been linked to more depressive symptoms in new mothers. It has also led to more pediatrician visits to treat diaper rashes and urinary tract infections.
How Families Can Be Helped
Diaper need may seem like a simple problem, but it can affect a family in a multitude of ways. Family relationships can be severely impacted by these difficulties. Part of the support needed by these families is not just diapers and other resources in kind but social and psychological support as well. This is why assistance programs need to have experts that are qualified to deal with these scenarios. Maryville University’s human development and family studies curriculum discusses how these experts are trained in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development aspects when it comes to families ranging from a variety of backgrounds. Using these skills, they can help families cope with their difficulties more effectively. Ideally, this should be combined with the proper provision of diapers and related resources to truly meet the needs of these families.
More importantly, families can be helped by shaping policies to meet their needs. In Washington state, Senator Joe Ngyuen along with representatives Tim Orsby and Tana Senn successfully secured $5 million for non-profits and diaper banks. This would make Washington the third state to provide diaper bank funding in their budget. At the national level, the Lee-DeLauro End Diaper Need Act has been in place since 2019, and while the diaper stipend didn’t make the Washington budget, cash assistance and diaper banks did.
With the diaper shortage coming to light, perhaps more people will come to understand the multifaceted nature of this issue. And with more understanding, greater funding and better family-centered care policies may be put in place — including the provision of diapers to families that need them.
Babies of Homelessness works every day to deliver diapers, wipes and formula to families in need in King and Snohomish counties. One way you can help go to our website and make a donation in any amount.
Written by Remi June
Exclusively for babiesofhomelessness.org