Is It Luck?

I received an e-mail the other day that broke my heart. The young woman wrote that she cared for three children in diapers, one of whom was the niece her sister couldn’t take care of anymore. This woman did not work because daycare for three children cost more than she made. This arrangement worked while her fiancé was working, but he had recently, unexpectedly, lost his job. And now they couldn’t pay for diapers.

The young lady who sent me that e-mail describes both luck and choices. She and her fiancé were doing well enough that they chose to take in her niece so she could keep her niece from entering the child welfare system. That shows generosity — she was lucky enough to be able to help someone else. Then bad luck hit. Her fiancé, who had a good job, was laid off. Now she has three children under three years old, all in diapers. She thought she had made good choices and that she and her family were financially set. Turned out bad luck got in the way.

The trajectory of our lives is determined by a series of choices and luck, but it seems to me that many people discount how big a role luck plays. From the perspective of a baby, the family the baby is born into is a matter of luck. The child has no choice in this matter, and has done nothing one way or another to deserve one family more or less than the other. The child’s only action to this point is being born. As a studyreleased by the Urban Institute found, children born into wealth tend to live life as wealthier adults.

Children born into poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults than people who were not born into poverty. Among children who are never poor, only 1 percent spent half their early adult years living in poverty. On the other hand, 32 percent of persistently poor children go on to spend half their early adult years living in poverty.

Sometimes this luck translates into an ability to make choices. For example, according to the Social Science Research Council, if you were lucky enough to be born to educated parents, you are more likely to pursue a college degree.

Children whose parents have at least a college degree enter college at more than twice the rate of children whose parents did not graduate high school.

Although pursuing a college degree involves making a choice, it also involves luck. If there are simply too many obstacles — the cost of tuition is prohibitive, you can’t afford to pay the application fee or the fee to take the college board exams, or your family cannot afford for you to quit your afterschool job — you will in effect not have the opportunity to make the choice.

Our lives are certainly shaped by our innate qualities as human beings — raw intelligence, mechanical aptitude, the ability to relate to others, and so on — but our ability to capitalize on those qualities depends in large part on luck. Were you lucky enough to have a stable family life that allowed you to focus on schoolwork and training to perfect these qualities? Were you lucky enough to have the opportunity to exercise these qualities and turn them into an asset for future earnings or opportunities?

Your ability to rebound from these turns of luck also depends on luck — how much good or bad luck you had before. Maybe you can recover from one unlucky break, for example, you get laid off, but can you recover from several unlucky breaks? You lose your job, your neighbor has a fire in their apartment so you must evacuate and then someone rear ends your car in an accident — can you recover from all of that at once?

People living paycheck-to-paycheck might have the cushion necessary to sustain a little bit of bad luck. But a long run of bad luck probably not. Indeed, unless you are really lucky most of us don’t have the resources to carry us through a really long run of bad luck. And bad luck tends to beget more bad luck. You don’t have enough money for gas, so you have to rely on the bus, which is late, so you miss the big interview. You do not have enough money to buy diapers so you cannot bring your child to daycare so you lose a day’s wage. You literally cannot afford to work.

It is both luck and choices in my life that have allowed me to be in a position to help the young lady I described above find diapers. But what if I were less lucky? Would I be asking for diapers now? And would someone luckier than me choose to help?

In my life I have met many people who have had a lot of luck — good and bad and made lots of choices — both good and bad. My point is, regardless of your situation in life — both luck and choices play a role. We should all keep that in mind as we judge those around us.

Today’s Dads Can Help Close the “Diaper Gap”

Today we have a guest blogger–Vincent DiCaro of the National Fatherhood Initiative

If you have any doubts as to how “involved” dads are in the world of diapers, just ask Huggies what they think.

Huggies, the founding sponsor of the National Diaper Bank Network, unleashed a torrent of complaints from dads in response to its current advertising campaign. Without rehashing the entire incident here, the ads seemed to imply that fathers are incompetent diaper changers; the online community of dads responded; and to its great credit, Huggies listened and made changes to the campaign, which now suggests that dads, just like moms, care about the quality of the diapers they put on their children.

Why is this story relevant to the movement to get diapers into the hands of needy families?  Because it is critical that half the population of parents – dads – are called upon to help fight this fight.

There is a temptation when addressing an issue of concern to infants and toddlers to think of it as a “moms issue.” Assuredly — and we at National Fatherhood Initiative know this from 18 years of experience — it is often easier to get mothers engaged in these sorts of movements. But put another way, it is hard but very rewarding work to get dads engaged, too.

The involvement of dads communicates something very powerful about the importance of an issue. The forces that suggest that dads are “less involved” are the same forces that suggest that when they are involved, you should really pay attention.

And frankly, we are relying on outdated information in assessing the kind of parenting practices that are taking place in homes today. For example, marketers rely on the statistic that 85% of family purchasing decisions are made my moms. The problem is that no one knows where that statistic came from. More recent research — which is just starting to be used — suggests that dads, at a minimum, share in most family purchases and are in the lead on many. This indicates that dads are much more involved in what happens in the home than they were even 10 years ago.

To this point, most of the dads I know in the 25-35 age range (myself included) change just as many diapers and spend just as much time with their children as their wives do.

So, how do we get dads engaged in the mission of closing the diaper gap? First, we have to tell them that they are welcome. Dads often feel that certain territories are “mom only” places and they best keep out. Let’s avoid that. Second, you have to call dads out as dads. If you say, “calling all parents” dads will just assume it is meant for moms. Let’s avoid that, too. Finally, bring partners on board that are not the “usual suspects.” If all of the sponsors and organizational partners are ones that only moms identify with, dads will not feel as though “this is for them.” Get distinctly male entities involved, and that will communicate something powerful to the dads out there.

It won’t be easy, but it will certainly be worth it. When dads are involved, everyone wins – dads, moms, and especially kids.

Vincent DiCaro
Vice President, Development and Communication
National Fatherhood Initiative
20410 Observation Drive
Suite 107
Germantown, MD 20876
Phone: 240-912-1270
Fax: 301-948-4325
Email: vdicaro@fatherhood.orgWebsite: http://www.fatherhood.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nationalfatherhoodinitiative
Blog: http://thefatherfactor.blogspot.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thefatherfactor

Why Diapers? Some Facts That Might Surprise You

Diapers are a basic need for children in the United States, as essential to their health and well-being as food, shelter and a parent’s love.  Unlike other necessities such as food and heat, diapers are not recognized as a basic need by the federal government, and so no provision is made to help families acquire diapers.  Federal anti-poverty programs such as Food Stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) do not cover diapers, leaving poor families without the means to properly diaper their children.

 

Families from a range of incomes struggle to afford diapers, including both families who fall below the federal guideline of poverty ($22,350 for a family of four) and families with incomes above the federal poverty guideline but who are still considered low-income.  Research suggests that families earning twice the federal poverty guideline still struggle to meet their basic needs, making the poverty level figures cited in this plan a very conservative estimate of the universe of people struggling to meet their diaper needs.

 

Families unable to afford diapers are forced to choose between a range of undesirable alternatives that can severely impact the health and well-being of both the child and the rest of the household.  According to a study by Ravers and Letourneau, 34% of families surveyed had cut back on basics such as food, utilities or child care in order to purchase diapers for their children.[1]  Other families reported leaving their children in soiled diapers for a longer period of time than they otherwise would have.  Some families even resort to cleaning out or drying soiled diapers and reusing them in order to meet their diaper needs.

 

The lack of diapers also limits families’ child care options.  Most licensed child care programs do not accept children who are not sent with an adequate supply of disposable diapers and do not accept alternatives such as cloth diapers.  When parents run out of diapers, they are forced to withdraw their children from child care, hindering their ability to work or attend school.

 

Twenty-two percent of all children under five years of age in the United States live in poverty, ranging as high as 34% in Mississippi to 12% in Maryland.[2]  In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, as many as 57% of children under five live in poverty.  This poverty is most pronounced in households headed by single mothers, where 54% of children under five live in poverty, compared to only 27% of children under of five in single father households and 10% of children under five in households with two married parents.[3]

 

In absolute terms, 4.4 million children under five live in poverty[4], of which roughly 2.6 million are children who wear diapers (0-36 months).  At a rate of six diapers per day per child, diaper wearing children in poverty in the United States require more than 5.8 billion diapers annually to keep them clean, dry and healthy.


An inadequate supply of diapers can have severe repercussions for the health and economic and emotional well-being of the child, parent and rest of the household.  Most immediately, an inadequate supply of diapers forces many parents to leave their child in a soiled diaper longer than is appropriate, which frequently leads to diaper rash, and may cause staph infections and urinary tract infections.  Uncomfortable babies also experience irritability, prolonged crying and poor sleep.  These consequences, in turn, erode mother-child attachment and may lead to lower levels of self-esteem and even depression for parents who are not able to provide the diapers their children need.  In many cases, these outcomes result in neglect[5] and abuse of the child.

 

The inability to enroll children in child care due to lack of diapers threatens parents’ economic and educational opportunities.  Without proper child care, parents cannot work to support their families and cannot attend the schooling that will help them provide a firmer economic base for their family.

 

Moreover, the unplanned removal of the child from child care when diapers run out may itself cause harm to the child’s well-being.  Adams and Rohacek report that instability in child care arrangements has been linked to a range of negative outcomes in children, including problems with relationship attachment, social competence, behavior, cognitive ability, language development, school adjustment and overall well-being.[6]

 

In cases where parents cut back on other expenses to afford diapers, families suffer due to a lack of other necessities.  Cutting back on clothing, heat or prescription drugs can negatively affect family members’ health and emotional well-being.


[1] Ibid.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2005-2009.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Laura Frame, Parent-Child Relationships in Conditions of Urban Poverty: Protection, Care, and Neglect of Infants and Toddlers, Center for Social Service Research, School of Social Work, U.C. Berkeley, 2001, p.4.

[6] Gina Adams and Monica Rohacek, Child Care Instability: Definitions, Context, and Policy Implications, Urban Institute, 2010, p.6.

%d bloggers like this: