The Town of Chapel Hill issued a proclamation last Wednesday recognizing Diaper Need Awareness Week to acknowledge a lack of diapers as a public health issue in the area.
Mayor Pam Hemminger said the Town issues this proclamation every year during the fourth week of September. This year, the proclamation was issued from Sept. 24 through Oct. 2.
“We care about the children in our community, especially to make sure that they have what they need, and we have resources in this community to make that a reality,” Hemminger said.
She added that the community-wide need for diapers, as well as other basic necessities, has increased recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation.
Across the United States, one in three families struggles to obtain a sufficient number of clean diapers, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
The Diaper Bank of North Carolina helps address this issue, according to the organization’s website. Founded in 2013, it aims for every family in North Carolina to have access to basic necessities to support their dignity, health and quality of life.
Diaper Bank Director of Research and Evaluation Kelley Massengale said diapers are a basic need.
“Diaper need happens in every community in North Carolina,” Massengale said. “It's not something that's always visible or noticeable.”
Massengale said proclamations recognizing diaper need are important because they engage the community. She added that people who do not have children do not realize the cost of diapers or the amount a baby or toddler might use in a day.
Childcare providers often require parents to supply their children's diapers, Massengale said. She added that parents must stay home to take care of their child if they cannot provide enough for a single day.
“It becomes a cycle where parents have to miss work because they don't have the diapers to send to daycare,” she explained. “Their paycheck is short. They don't have the money to go out and buy diapers, and it's really hard.”
Anna Austin, assistant professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, said children who do not have their diapers changed often enough have an increased risk of diaper rash and urinary tract infections.
Austin also said diaper need is associated with elevated depressive symptoms in new mothers.
“A lot of parents report feelings of guilt and shame and immense stress around not being able to provide this basic need for their children, given that diapers are incredibly expensive,” Austin said.
From her years of research in maternal and child health, Austin said she has devised a number of policy recommendations at all levels of government to address diaper need.
These recommendations include repealing the sales tax on diapers and other essential hygiene products, having local governments fund diaper banks and incorporating them into the federal social safety net. Currently, diapers are not included in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children benefits, she explained.
Austin also said diaper vouchers could be provided to recipients of Medicaid or participants in Head Start, a child development program for low-income families.
At the individual level, there are many ways for community members to help mitigate diaper need. Austin said people who care about the issue should write letters to elected officials in support of policies that help address it.
Massengale said people can also volunteer at the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. Much of the organization’s operations rely on volunteers who wrap, package and distribute diapers to families in need.
Additionally, people can either donate financially to the diaper bank, or they can host diaper drives.
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