Being Tight On Money, Short On Diapers Brings Health Issues

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Families who can't afford diapers sometimes re-use disposable diapers. That practice leads to many other problems for families living in poverty, according to a Yale study. Host Arun Rath talks with Joanne Goldblum, a social worker and an author of the study. She is also the founder and executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network.


One of the mundane complaints of new parents is the cost of diapers. It's actually kind of shocking how much you end up spending every week. But for poor families, it's not just an idle complaint. Food stamps don't pay for diapers, and their children face health problems that can disrupt the entire family.

Joanne Goldblum is a co-author of a recent study by Yale University, which documents the problem, one she's been trying to solve. She's also the founder of the National Diaper Bank Network.

JOANNE GOLDBLUM: I started a diaper bank here in New Haven, the New Haven Diaper Bank, when I was working as a social worker at Yale Child Study Center. And I was working with families who had a variety of different things going on in their lives. But what they all had in common was a level of really abject poverty. And I would visit them and see firsthand them taking a diaper off their child, emptying out the solids and putting it back on.

RATH: And it's not just - you know, it goes from the lack of diapers to an array of a whole range of serious problems. Can you talk about that?

GOLDBLUM: What we found that was really interesting in this study is that diaper need correlated with mental health needs, so that moms who described significant diaper need were at higher risk of having a stress- or mental health-related issue than even those moms who described having food need.

RATH: What's the typical expenses for diapers for parents?

GOLDBLUM: We estimate about $18 a week.

RATH: Why not just use cloth diapers and you can clean them?

GOLDBLUM: People ask us that all the time. Most childcare centers require disposable diapers. Also, many low-income families don't have ready access to laundry facilities. So it really isn't always the answer.

RATH: I think people will also find it surprising, perhaps, that parents can't buy diapers with food stamps, being sort of an essential thing.

GOLDBLUM: I found out that it is a huge problem because it's diapers and all hygiene products and cleaning supplies, so that families who are really struggling to get by often aren't able to purchase those most essential items.

RATH: You actually don't think it would be a good idea for diapers to be eligible for purchase with food stamps.

GOLDBLUM: Well, I don't think that that's the answer. As it stands, most families who count on food stamps for their food don't have enough money to make it to the end of the month.

RATH: So what do you think the way is to do that?

GOLDBLUM: I think that there are legislators who could look and find different places to put diapers, in insurance, potentially temporary assistance for needy families. There are different places.

RATH: And what about broadly across the country for parents who need diapers? Are there banks in most states and most cities nowadays?

GOLDBLUM: I would say there are banks in most states, not most cities. The need is much, much greater than the supply. It really is a problem. We get calls every day, really, with horrible stories who just aren't able to provide for their children's most basic needs. And it's really heartbreaking.

RATH: Joanne Goldblum is the founder of the National Diaper Bank Network. Joanne, thank you.

GOLDBLUM: Thank you.

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