13 September 2013

The Diaper Gap

(Today's guest blog is by Jone Bosworth, a colleague of my sister's from when they both were in the world of child welfare policy. I've never met Jone, but I know my sister thinks the world of her, and very early on, she was tremendously supportive of Causes And Effects. Her blog today is honestly about something I can say I have never given a thought to and I bet you haven't either. Jone now runs Incourage Leading, a women's leadership development firm.--Melinda)

I focus on diapers only, that is all I can take on in this country full of so many needs. People are good-hearted but totally ignorant about diapers. We need to inform everyone.” --Marybeth Levine, Detroit Area Diaper Bank  

I’ve got a confession to make today so I’m counting on you all (especially you, Melinda) to forgive this Cause and Effects’ opportunity to purge. 

As a former governmental leader responsible for making sure that the “safety net” works, I consider myself a pretty poverty-savvy chick. Flaws and failings, I believe that the safety net is vitally important, that it makes a significant impact by expanding the dignity with which people are able to live in the U.S. 

Here comes the confession part:  I never thought diapers.  

Then I met Marybeth Levine, founder of the Detroit Area Diaper Bank. I was interviewing women across the country to learn about how Main Street America is doing, what women really care about, and how they’d transform the country immediately if they had magic wand power. Marybeth is already transforming her local area, one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession, through her laser focus on diapers. 

During our interview, Marybeth gently identified me as one of the ‘good-hearted but totally ignorant,’ sharing that:     

The old safety net was created when diapers were cloth, women didn’t work outside the home and women did three or four loads of laundry a day. Now, women work, landlords don’t allow you to hang clothes outside, child care requires you to bring disposable diapers. But not one government program addresses this need for diapers. 

It is the same with elderly people who could be out in the world. They suffer from incontinence and cannot afford supplies, which drives greater use of other programs like Meals-on-Wheels, they’re too embarrassed to go out. Incontinence is actually the number two reason we put people in nursing homes. I could go on but you can see there’s a huge hole in the safety net.”  

What, after about 20 years working in the poverty arena, how could I not have realized this stinkin’ diaper gap?  

It’s true. Not one federal safety net program makes provisions to provide diapers to those in need – our children, elderly, and disabled of all ages. Food Stamps/SNAP and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) cannot be spent on diapers. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) doesn’t address the need for diapers. And, programs for our elderly, like Medicare, are silent on the diaper issue too.  

According to the Detroit Area Diaper Bank’s website, here are just a few key reasons that diapers matter (/):   

Babies & Toddlers - 
  • Uncomfortable babies cry and don't sleep well at night – this leads to poorly-rested and higher-stressed parents and siblings and can contribute to illnesses, absences and reduced performance levels at work and school.
  • In low-income families without insurance, health issues like severe diaper rashes often go untreated until they require a trip to the ER, creating added pressure on community hospitals that provide free emergency care.
Elderly – 
  • 15-20% of all adults over age 65 suffer some degree of incontinence.
  • Healthy but incontinent seniors often become homebound if they can't afford supplies. 
Disabled –
  • Many babies with disabilities never outgrow the need for diapers, even through adulthood.
  • Many children and adults with disabilities need diapers or incontinence supplies in order to go to school, work or participate in job training.

I get it, Marybeth. The safety net forgot diapers. Not only did you remember and take meaningful action, but you educated ‘good-hearted but totally ignorant’ me too. 

Thank you, Melinda, for allowing me to select the Detroit Area Diaper Bank today for your $10 contribution. Did I mention that 100% of every dollar donated to Marybeth’s organization is used to purchase diapers? Yes, the entire operation – that has distributed over 1.7 million diapers since April 2009 – is completely volunteer-powered. 

To contribute to a diaper bank in your local area, launch a diaper drive in your community or start up a bank where you live, the National Diaper Network offers expert advice and assistance at http://diaperbanknetwork.org/.    

-Jone Bosworth

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