Diaper Need Awareness Week draws attention to a ‘silent crisis’

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Every month, the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank in Dauphin County distributes more than 25,000 diapers to nonprofits in Central Pennsylvania.

Those diapers then ensure that more than 400 babies and toddlers in four counties are “clean, dry, and healthy,” Executive Director Amanda Barnes said.

Those three words — clean, dry, and healthy — are a rallying cry for advocates and lawmakers during National Diaper Need Awareness Week, which kicked off Monday.

The East Wing Rotunda of the Capitol will host a diaper and donation drive until Oct. 4, as well as a Tuesday press conference led by Rep. Rosita Youngblood, D-Philadelphia.

But this “silent crisis,” as Barnes called it, isn’t felt just one week of the year.

A 2017 survey by the National Diaper Bank Network found that 36 percent of American families struggle to afford diapers.

While some parents are able to buy diapers in bulk from big-box stores, others pay much more at the local corner store, Barnes said. Cloth diapers aren’t a viable option for families without a washer and dryer in their home.

“Whenever you have an added stress, such as not being able to provide diapers for your children, it can increase postpartum depression,” Barnes said. “Also, it can increase instances of child abuse, and it can have an impact on the development of the child.”

Youngblood and Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, are sponsoring a resolution to recognize the week and the Capitol diaper drive, which is in its sixth year. According to the lawmakers, last year’s drive collected more than 5,000 diapers.

The Democrats also plan to introduce a bill that would give the state Department of Human Services “the ability to provide assistance to certain low-income individuals buying diapers for children 36 months of age and younger.”

Currently, families cannot buy diapers with funds from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, or the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program.

Barnes said families are forced to pull from a limited amount of cash used for rent and utilities to buy diapers.

“When families are forced to make a decision to pay their rent or purchase diapers, the money generally goes to rent,” she said. “Low-income families have had to reuse diapers or leave their child in a diaper all day, which can cause health problems.”

There are misconceptions about families who struggle to afford diapers, Barnes said. Many are working — they just don’t make enough for diapers.

And that’s a big problem for families who rely on daycares, which may require parents to supply diapers for each day.

The aim of National Diaper Need Awareness Week is right in the name, Barnes said: to raise awareness about the scope of this issue. She said people spurred to action can host a diaper drive or make a monetary donation to a diaper bank like hers. Parents with kids who have grown out of a certain size can even donate open packages.

“We really want people to just be aware that diaper need is an issue, and it is an issue here in Central Pennsylvania,” she said. “In our community where we live, there are so many people who aren’t able to diaper their children in a healthy manner.”

Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.

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