Filling a hole in our child care delivery system
Some of us take having an adequate supply of diapers for granted. Many don’t think twice about getting in the car and heading out to make a quick diaper run; at most, it can be an inconvenience during an already-busy day.
But for too many in our state, diaper need — the inability to afford diapers — is a constant struggle and recurring stressor. Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, one in three Connecticut families couldn’t afford enough diapers for their infants and toddlers, and these days more are struggling than ever before.
At The Diaper Bank of Connecticut, we are distributing more than 75,000 diapers every month, through a network of more than 60 community partners statewide, but we are just scratching the surface of need in our community.
We serve some of the most vulnerable and at-risk families in our state. Families that receive free diapers live in households where annual income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level: that’s $53,000 or less for a family of four.
Often, parents and caregivers who can’t afford diapers are also dealing with other hardships — food insecurity, employment troubles, housing issues, health problems or other obstacles. These factors, exacerbated by diaper need, can trap them in a cycle of poverty.
It can be a daunting and difficult cycle to break. Consider, for instance, a parent who can’t take their infant to day care because they lack the disposable diapers required by most child care centers. Without child care, parents can’t go to work or school, which leads to more instability, and the cycle continues.
For too many in Connecticut, there’s no such thing as a “quick diaper run.” The very notion includes many assumptions: that a parent has easy access to a nearby store, the transportation to get there, time they can take away from work or family obligations to do it, and enough money to pay for it. Neither the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children; nor Medicaid cover the cost of diapers.
What are struggling parents to do?
Faced with no other options, some caregivers resort to leaving infants and toddlers in soiled diapers for too long. This can cause various medical complications, including diaper rash and urinary tract infections. Research has found a connection between diaper need and pediatrician visits and, in the worst cases, children can end up in a hospital emergency department.
Diaper need has negative health impacts on parents and caregivers, too; it’s linked to increased rates of stress and depression. After all, diaper need isn’t something parents get a break from. It’s a continual, recurring stressor, every couple of hours or so when a baby needs to be changed. Children of stressed or depressed parents, in turn, are at greater risk for social, emotional and behavioral problems, research from the National Institutes of Health shows.
Many aspects of diaper need can lead to children and caregivers alike seeking medical care that not only puts a financial burden on families — again, extending that cycle of poverty — but on the overall health care system as well.
It is National Diaper Need Awareness Week (Sept. 27-Oct. 3) and I invite you to learn more about what we are doing at The Diaper Bank of Connecticut to reduce diaper need in our state. The most impactful and costeffective way you can help is by making a donation, at thediaperbank.org/donate. I also urge you to advocate with us, on behalf of families who need help the most.
No one should have to worry about affording an adequate supply of diapers, a basic health need. Together, we can make a difference and improve the health and stability of infants and toddlers, our most vulnerable community members.
Janet Stolfi Alfano is the executive director of The Diaper Bank of Connecticut. The North Haven-based nonprofit serves families throughout the state, distributing infant and toddler diapers, period supplies, and youth and adult incontinence products through its network of more than 60 community partners.