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April 2010 - The Diaper Cycle

By Stacy Notaras Murphy

I’ve been thinking about diapers a lot lately – and it’s not just because my daughter is starting to get interested in potty training.

I heard a story on the radio a few months ago that explained the connection between adequate diapers and child abuse. Families struggling financially may not be able to afford the 8-12 diapers a newborn uses per day, and food stamps do not cover diapers and other personal hygiene products. As a result, parents have to ration their clean diapers, forcing some babies to sit in dirty diapers for extended periods of time.

Any mom will tell you, a dirty diaper means more crying and a good chance of persistent rash. Studies have shown that crying babies are at a higher risk of being abused by their caregivers than babies who are do not cry as often. Further, we know that abused children struggle with anxiety and depression, and also in greater jeopardy of growing up to become abusers themselves – and there you have a recurring cycle of abuse.

Despite the crushing costs of daycare, monthly tuition usually does not include diapers, making it all the more difficult for on-the-fringe families to make the decision to find a job or go back to school. Cloth diapers are an unlikely solution, as daycare centers often do not accept them and most laundromats prohibit customers from washing them due to sanitary concerns.

As a counselor who sits with clients facing all kinds of challenges – many related to childhood trauma – I do find myself wondering what can be done to stop the cycle. A sufficient supply of diapers can cost up to $100 per month. Multiply that amount by the number of struggling families in our neighborhoods, and you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed or paralyzed by the size of this problem.

But April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and learning more about the “diaper cycle” has made me start thinking about how just one small change can build on itself, until the momentum is wide enough to impact a whole community. If one financially-challenged parent does not have to ration diapers, there is no doubt she is in a better position to raise healthy, happy children who grow up to be contributing members of society.

For you it might not be about diapers, it could be getting to know a neighborhood kid, offering to babysit for a single parent who needs a little time to herself, or donating time to a community organization. Today’s actions have reverberations that go on for years and years.

The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence is always accepting donations for their diaper drive.

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