Break Poverty’s study on early childhood poverty and food aid, which surveyed around 100 parents with children aged 0-3 receiving food support, paints an alarming picture of poverty among young children in France, its impact on family stress and its exponential rise due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The effects of the health crisis on early childhood poverty in France

For many people living in poverty, the health crisis has sent their needs soaring. To date, more than 2 million people have turned to food aid distribution in France[1]. While job loss, illness and separation are still the three main reasons behind financial struggles among people receiving food aid, the Covid-19 crisis has also had a huge impact.

Some 17% of people turning to food aid have a dependent child under the age of 3. At an average income of €839 a month[1], with diapers costing around €87 a month[2], this financial stress will inevitably have an impact on their children’s early years.

The situation is becoming even more critical: 50% of people receiving food aid said they began using it less than a year ago[1]. And, even worse, a third of young parents turned to food aid for the first time in the winter of 2021. This means that more and more people are becoming dependent on food aid – and two thirds of recipients are frequent visitors to food aid centers, which are only supposed to provide occasional support[3].

Alarming study results

To dig deeper into the difficulties these young parents are facing, Break Poverty ran a study from March 19-26, 2021, surveying around 100 people receiving food aid with a child aged 0-3. We spoke to these people in food aid centers partnering with the “Agence du Don en Nature” (agency for donations in kind), hostels run by SAMU Social (Municipal humanitarian emergency service) in Paris and other nonprofits, including Edumian and Amitié Partage, asking them to answer a questionnaire on paper or online.

The resulting statistics on early childhood poverty in France are alarming, with more than one disadvantaged parent in three saying they have to limit the number of baby food pots they give their children for financial reasons[3]. And one in five say they often give their young children reduced amounts of baby food[4]. When it comes to hygiene products, the situation is even more critical. Some 51% of people receiving food aid say they can’t afford to buy as many hygiene products, particularly diapers, for their babies[5] as they’d like to.

That’s even more alarming given the difficulties that food aid centers are having in responding to the sudden surge in needs since the health crisis. Usually, public and private aid and support systems act as a safety net to stop poverty situations getting out of control. But this year, more than three in four parents receiving support think that the crisis has made it more difficult to get free or heavily subsidized diapers and hygiene products from aid centers[4]. And the same goes for food products: 58% and 63% of parents receiving support say that the crisis has made it harder to get baby formula and baby food pots, respectively, from aid centers[4].

Even though feeding their children is the last thing parents cut back on, 70% and 67% of them say that the Covid-19 crisis has had a negative impact on their financial ability to buy baby formula and baby food pots, respectively, for their children under three[4].

And now,after a year of health, economic and social crisis, the results of our survey couldn’t be clearer: early childhood poverty is very real, to the point that basic needs for babies and toddlers are not being sufficiently met.

Taking action to prevent long-term impacts

Eight in ten parents say that they had to ration food with significant consequences on their children’s wellbeing, with many reporting that they cry frequently, have trouble sleeping and suffer from skin irritations. It can cause “heightened stress, with consequences on babies’ neurological, emotional, affective, cognitive and relational development,” according to the “1000 premiers jours” (first 1,000 days) commission launched by the French government in September 2019, so named to highlight the importance of the first 1,000 days of life for any individual’s development.

Chaired by neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik and bringing together 18 specialists in various fields (including social assistants who work directly with parents), this working group is primarily aimed at determining how all children can grow in the best conditions. This means paying special attention to families in poverty, with recommended measures including support to organizations working with pregnant women and young mothers.

Being unable to afford all the products their babies need also takes a toll on parents, with 72% of parents receiving food aid saying that feeding their baby is a source of stress[6]. “More and more parents are telling us about how difficult their day-to-day is,” said Adrien Taquet, French State Secretary for Childhood and Families, who is overseeing the work of the “1000 premiers jours” commission. “We need to work together to do better, for our children and for our society,” he emphasized.

And that’s what operation SOS infants in need (Urgence Premiers Pas), launched by Break Poverty Foundation and backed by French State Secretary for Childhood and Families, Adrien Taquet, and L’Agence du Don en Nature, is all about. The first years of a child’s life have a huge impact on their future, from brain development to health, happiness, learning capacity and wellbeing.

Together, we must let children grow – not poverty.


Click here to support the thousands of babies suffering from early childhood poverty in France.


[1] CSA 2021 study for French food banks

[2] IFOP for Dons Solidaires, March 2021

[3] Break Poverty study, March 2021

[4] IBP 2021 study

[5] IFOP for Dons Solidaires, March 2021

[6] IBP 2021 study


Photo credits: Rodrigo Peirera, Unsplash.