The Right Questions
Sometimes, the right questions must be asked to identify real problems.
In collaboration with colleagues at The New Haven Mental Health Outreach for MotherS (MOMS) Partnership at the Yale School of Medicine, National Diaper Bank Network Executive Director Joanne Goldblum has introduced the first-ever Basic Needs-Informed Curriculum to help social workers, clinicians and educators recognize when the lack of a material thing – often a simple one – is causing serious health, family, school or work problems.
Writing in her most recent «Impact» column on The Huffington Post, Goldblum provides the following example: «A teenage girl misses about a week of school each month. That sets her up for academic failure and, in some states, referral to juvenile court for truancy. Maybe her parents aren’t supervising her. Maybe she is on drugs. Or maybe she stays home when she has her period, because she has no feminine hygiene products. We accept that this happens in the developing world. People in the United States struggle with necessities too. There is a wide gap between the money people obtain from public assistance or low-wage jobs and the money it takes to cover basic needs.»
Sometimes, the right questions must be asked to identify real problems. Goldblum contends that being basic needs-informed may sound simple, but doing so deviates from how most systems have operated traditionally, and goes beyond how professionals are frequently trained. For example, while working as a social worker, Goldblum says she could recognize the signs of depression and could refer clients to treatment.
«But I was not trained to ask about the nuts and bolts, the small things whose absence could send a life off the rails,» says Goldblum. «How many mothers’ mental health could be improved by getting them access to these things? A month’s worth of diapers costs about $75. That’s beyond the reach of many low-wage parents – but cheaper than therapy by a long shot.»
In her column, Goldblum does not recommend cuts in mental health services, which many low-income people desperately need. «I’m merely saying: Let’s first find out if the problem is rooted in not having something like bus fare or dish detergent. That’s the real advantage of being basic needs-informed – it can shine a light on ways to help people become healthier and more independent almost immediately.»