Handle with Care
Title:Fragile: handle with care Author(s):Susan Linn and Alvin Francis Poussaint Source:Newsweek. 129 (Spring-Summer 1997): p33. Document Type:Article Full Text:Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Any reuse, distribution or alteration without express written permission of Newsweek is prohibited. For permission: www. newsweek. com Full Text: Shaken-baby syndrome can cause blindness, developmental delays and permanent brain damage EACH YEAR, THOUSANDS OF YOUNG CHILDREN suffer brain injury or die from being violently shaken.
Children as old as 5 are vulnerable to shaken-baby syndrome (SBS), but infants between 2 and 4 months are especially at risk. Although inflicting SBS is a crime punishable by imprisonment, rates continue to rise. Since 1980 annual reported incidents of child abuse andneglect have risen threefold, to more than 8 million. Children under 1 account for one third of reported physical-abusecases, with head trauma the most frequent cause of disability or death. Clearly, the threat of criminal prosecution is not enough: any plan to prevent this kind of abuse must include public-education and intervention programs.
SBS, first described as a syndrome in 1974, can be lethal: approximately one shaken baby in four dies from the injuries. Those who survive may suffer blindness caused by bleeding around the brain and eyes, or disabling brain damage, including mental retardation, paralysis, seizure disorders, and speech and learning disabilities. SBS is especially tragic because it often stems from ignorance. According to a nationwide study by Dr. Jacy Showers of the SBS Prevention Plus Program, 87 percent of parents and other caregivers are unaware that shaking babies is dangerous.
Many people who injure babies in this fashion are not chronic abusers but adults overwhelmed by the demands of child care. It is no easy task to care for an infant. Newborns cry an average of one to four hours a day. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of SBS incidents occur when an infant is crying: people who violently shake babies cannot tolerate their inability to control the infant’s cries, and may even believe that the baby is purposely crying to be annoying or to get attention. Others interpret sustained crying as a sign that the baby is “spoiled,” and think that he needs to be physically disciplined.
A vicious cycle begins when a caregiver becomes ever more exasperated and angry and shakes the baby in a misguided effort to stop the crying. Anyone can experience transient anger toward a crying baby. But if the impulse to shake or hit is strong and recurrent, call an agency such as CHILDHELP (800-4-ACHILD) or the National Child Abuse Hotline (800-422-4458). Helping parents and caregivers better understand infant behavior and manage their frustrations could significantly reduce the occurrence of SBS and other abuse.
Since a major precursor to SBS is loss of control, caregivers who believe they are “losing it” should avoid touching the child. Instead, after making sure the baby is safe, step back or leave the room briefly to cool down. Consider possible causes for the crying. Is she ill, hungry, soiled, teething, injured or frightened? Try proven soothing techniques, such as patting holding, talking or singing. Parents who know which calming techniques work for their baby should share the information with others caring for the infant. When a baby’s crying sounds unusual or seems excessive, contact the pediatrician.
Of those charged with shaken-baby abuse, 60 percent are either the baby’s father or the mother’s boyfriend and are mostly young, in their 20s. Clearly, prevention efforts must reach out to men–through prenatal classes, clinics and schools and with information provided in workplace and recreational sites. Home visiting programs by social agencies show an impressive success rate for families at risk for child abuse and neglect. Hawaii’s Healthy Start program has reducedabuse to 1 percent in high-risk families, compared with 20 percent in such families nationwide.
Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Plus (800-858-5222) can provide information about starting local prevention programs. The small start-up cost pales beside the cost of a single case of SBS: up to $1 million in medical care, special-education programs and other public services over the first few years of a child’s life. Protecting our most helpless children is the least we can do for them. POUSSANT is director of the media center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center and clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard. LINN is associate director of the center. Abstract:
Shaken-baby syndrome, which occurs when adults violently shake their infants to stop them from crying or for disciplinary reasons, causes great physical harm to an infant. One in four infants will die from injuries caused by shaking, and brain damage, blindness and retardation can also result. Source Citation Linn, Susan, and Alvin Francis Poussaint. “Fragile: handle with care. ” Newsweek Spring-Summer 1997: 33+. Educators 200. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. Document URL http://go. galegroup. com. cmsmir. clevelandstatecc. edu/ps/i. do? id=GALE%7CA19324369=2. 1=tel_a_clscc=r=SPJ. SP13=w