Blog: "Let's Make Diapers Accessible and Affordable to Everyone"

Psychoanalytic Institute Supports Project to Address Community Diaper Need
“Let’s make diapers more accessible and affordable to everyone”, President Barack Obama
By Marie Rudden
Today, while speaking at South By Southwest (#SXSW2016) in Austin, TX, President Obama addressed the startling statistic that 1 in 3 American families struggles to afford diapers and stated that he plans to work with the private sector to make diapers more affordable.

Specific awareness of this issue has been growing since Dr. Megan Smith, an epidemiologist at Yale Child Study Center published an article about it in Pediatrics in 2013, and the National Diaper Network was formed.

In May, 2014, Dr. Smith gave a presentation at the Austen Riggs Center, an intensive psychoanalytically oriented hospital for treatment resistant patients in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute, where she presented her findings. In a survey of 525 lower-income parents of young children she discovered a surprising finding: 30 percent of her subjects reported that a leading obstacle to caring for their child was their inability to afford diapers. 

Here are some facts about diaper need in low income families:
  • One out of three low- income families struggle to buy diapers (Smith et al, Pediatrics, 2013), which cost $50- $100/month /child
  • Diapers are not covered by The WIC Program or by Food Stamps, which classifies them with cigarettes, alcohol and pet food as disallowed items
  • Families without washers/dryers must rely on store- bought diapers. If they lack gas money or a car, they must rely on convenience store purchases, which are even more expensive
  • Children without a supply of diapers are not allowed at day care centers, so parents miss work when they can’t supply them, thus losing money needed for their families
  • Diaper Need was an even stronger predictor of resulting stress and mental health difficulties in parents than was food insecurity. (Smith, 2013) Parents who can’t provide diapers feel guilty, powerless, frustrated, depressed
  • Children who wear soiled diapers are at risk of rashes and infections. Their irritable crying may make them targets for abuse or neglect from frustrated, depressed parent.

This talk resulted in the formation of our local diaper need project.

Learning about this, and realizing that diaper need is significant within Berkshire County, faculty members at Austen Riggs and at the Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute decided to form and support a project to address this issue. As psychoanalysts, we see this as a preventive effort that can ease difficulties in attachment between parents and their small children. Parents have reported to us that their difficulty in affording diapers has placed a major strain on their comfort with their children- diapering becomes stressful, they attempt toilet training “out of desperation” before their child may be ready, and they feel powerless and humiliated, sometimes avoiding their distressed child out of guilt and helplessness. This is also a mental health issue for parents who become depressed at what they see as a personal failure in providing for their children.

In September 2015, members of the Austen Riggs Center and Berkshire Psychoanalytic Institute formed the Berkshire Community Diaper Project to educate the community about this problem and to help parents in need obtain diapers. Our Board consists of 2 APsaA member psychoanalysts, 2 psycho-dynamically trained social workers and four community activist members. Since the Project formed, we have distributed over 90,000 diapers within the area via our connections with a local WIC office, with three agencies that work actively with area families, and with three local food pantries.

Fifty percent of our diaper recipients work full or part time, but need to supplement their diaper budget when one spouse may be laid off seasonally, or when other unexpected expenses arise, such as auto repair bills, medical bills, etc. Others have myriad reasons for their difficulties: a spouse may have gone on disability while the children were still in diapers, or may have lost their jobs via downsizing. Others come from settings of more entrenched poverty. Our project reaches 190 families per month.