Children’s Home & Aid believes in the power of parents and families as their children’s first teachers and most significant role models. When parents can’t access basic necessities for their children, the mental stress of figuring out how to best care for their child is straining.

This is evident in the story of a mother from one of our home visiting programs serving St. Clair County. She has four children with the youngest still in diapers. Her family purchases diapers at the beginning of each month and she calculates exactly how many diapers will keep her son clean and dry for the month. However, any change in how often he needs a fresh diaper – if he’s sick or fell in a puddle – and her diaper math will be wrong, leaving her to scramble for additional diapers.

“It’s a strain sometimes wondering have I bought enough, am I going to be short at the end of the month, if I have to buy cheaper ones are they going to give him diaper rash… It seems like an easy thing but it’s not. It’s a whole side job in itself trying to figure it out”.

This mothers’ story is not unique. Diaper need is a crisis impacting communities across Illinois. As an organization familiar with how poverty can be compounded into child neglect, Children’s Home & Aid is committed to advancing child, family, and community well-being solutions like addressing diaper need to prevent a more costly and disruptive child welfare intervention.  

We see the impact of diaper need every day at our two crisis nurseries, where we provided over 57,000 diapers last fiscal year. We see it with families at risk of entering foster care, where a lack of clean diapers and other basic needs can transform into a life altering family crisis. Our home visitors see it, regularly driving to visit families with a trunk full of diapers. And we see it working with our youngest parents in enrolled in our early childhood programs struggling to support their families.

The parents and caregivers we partner with from Englewood to East St. Louis can tell you precisely the number of diapers remaining and when their supply will end. This “diaper math” of determining whether they can afford to buy more diapers only adds to the stress of trying to parent with too little resources. This can force parents and caregivers into balancing difficult choices, like waiting longer to change a dirty diaper or creating unsanitary, makeshift diapers out of household supplies.

National Diaper Need Awareness Week, which runs through October 2nd, is all about drawing attention to the issue of diaper need. Diaper need impacts one in three families nationally and leads to a host of economic and medical issues. A lack of clean diapers can lead to irritation, urinary tract infections, and cost families nearly $1,500 annually in medical costs. Many early care and education centers require parents and caregivers to provide diapers. Those without diapers lose childcare, miss work and lose still more financial ground.

And it’s not getting any easier for families. Along with record high inflation, the price of disposable diapers has gone up 20 percent in the past year, and more than 30 percent since the start of the pandemic. While lawmakers instituted temporary grocery and gas tax reductions, no relief has been provided for families coping with record high diaper prices. Diapers are a basic need for young children, but our policies have priced them as a luxury for families. One study found that for every dollar of diaper aid a family received, personal income increased by 11 dollars.

But there is a solution. We are proud to partner with State Representative Lakesia Collins and State Senator Karina Villa on legislation creating a diaper allowance for Illinois families. Modeled on successful programs in California and Washington, their proposal would provide $70 per month to Illinois families who earn under the federal poverty level to spend on diapers for every child under the age of 3. This simple solution will provide critical relief to families who need it the most.

This week, I urge lawmakers to pause and reflect on how we can best support families in accessing this basic need. No family should be forced to decide whether their paycheck goes towards purchasing food or keeping their young children in clean diapers. If Illinois is to be the best state in the nation to raise a family, as our Governor has said so many times, we must prioritize eliminating diaper need when the 103rd General Assembly convenes in January.

Mike Shaver

President and CEO

Children’s Home & Aid