Diapers and Other Hygiene Products–A Basic Need for Healthy, Happy Children

It has been another exciting week at the National Diaper Bank Network.  We’ve been introduced to even more diaper banks that have been doing terrific work, and to more people who want to help ensure people who need diapers have access to them.

We’ve also been hearing stories that remind us of why this work is so important.  Raising healthy children is hard – and it is harder for parents who do not have access to the things their children need on an everyday basis.  No one disputes that food is necessary for life, and federal programs are established to help with that basic need.  But one does not need to rise much higher in the hierarchy of needs before one reaches hygiene products, including but not exclusively diapers, wipes, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and feminine hygiene product.  Toilet training may mean the end of a child’s need for diapers, but it does not mean the end to his need to other hygiene products.  In addition to the obvious health considerations of fostering necessary hygiene,  a lack of access to these products can impair a child’s social relationships and emotional health.  Hygiene affects how children are seen by the outside world including teachers and service providers as well as friends and family, as well as how they see themselves.  Products like diapers, wipes, A and D ointment as well as soap, shampoo toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and feminine hygiene products are all important to maintaining clean, healthy bodies and a healthy feeling of acceptance.

We need to spend money on prevention of problems in order to save money later on- we all know that children thrive when they are well cared for, babies need diapers, wipes, ointment for diaper rash.  Babies need to have their diapers changes when they are wet or dirty, not when mom or dad can afford another diaper.  Older children need to be able to have soap to wash with every day and shampoo for their hair, they need toothbrushes and toothpaste, everyday.  The whole family needs toilet paper, girls and women need feminine hygiene products.  These things are necessities, not luxuries.  Our system has long treated them as luxuries.

Moreover, a lack of access to hygiene products can affect the health of the family unit.  Because children who are dirty get reported to child welfare programs more often,  I would submit that children who are dirty are taken in for preventive health care less often and their parents wait until they are sicker to bring them in to see a physician when they are sick.  The parents of dirty children are accused of not taking care of their children, but as I see it we are not taking care of the family.  One of the current candidates for president has argued against the proposition that it takes a village to raise a child by saying families raise children.  Perhaps, but when a family does not have the basic tools to allow them to raise the child, society and the family both benefit when the family is provided the necessary tools to raise clean, healthy children.

Since we know how much money people getting entitlements have, we know they do not enough to pay for these things.  An analysis completed by the National Center for Children in Poverty in 2009 concluded that at current costs, a family of four living in a low cost area earning between $37,162 annually (based on two parents earning $9.00 per hour, equating to 175% of the current poverty rate) would spend all but $375 of their monthly income on housing, utilities, child care, transportation, food, and taxes.  We expect parents to take care of their children, we expect them to come to school clean and healthy every day but the truth is that we often set them up to fail.  Providing diapers, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper and feminine hygiene is a small thing but it can effect big things like education, jobs and child welfare.

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