Local shaken baby cases on the riseWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
The number of shaken baby cases is rising in Lucas County, according to Lucas County Children Services Executive Director Dean Sparks.
“It is a huge problem nationwide,” Sparks said. “Thirteen-hundred kids across the nation are either killed or have serious injuries by being shaken every year.”
In Lucas County, there are about 10 cases of shaken baby syndrome annually. Three incidents within one month in 1999, two of which were fatal, led to an increased effort to educate the community, including commercials, Sparks said.
Speaking of all calls received to Lucas County Children Services, Public Information Officer Julie Malkin said in 2007 there was approximately a 20 percent decline in overall activity compared to 2006. The first part of 2008 continued that trend with July and August stable for all calls, “but anecdotally we’ve seen an increase in shaken baby cases,” she said.
“Shaken baby syndrome is probably the one thing that is 100 percent preventable,” Sparks said. “We have been working really hard for the last many years, the last 10 years: Stop shaking your baby.”
Shaken baby is the result of a violent shaking by a parent or caretaker. What happens is the brain actually bounces in the inside of the skull, according to Sparks. Shaken baby can cause brain damage, metal retardation, blindness and paralysis.
Shaken baby is not caused by bouncing a baby on the knee or tossing him or her into the air. It is a violent act, Sparks said.
According to the National Center of Shaken Baby Syndrome, shaking probably lasts a maximum of 20 seconds or less. In most cases, the period of shaking is five to 10 seconds. To cause brain damage sufficient to allow clinical detection of the syndrome, severe forces must be used.
Sparks said 60 to 90 percent of the time, the perpetrator is a male in his late teens or early 20s and either the father of the baby or boyfriend of the mother.
A normal baby cries two to three hours per day, and if a baby is in pain, he or she will cry more, he said.
“Some people interpret that it is the baby being bad … babies can’t be bad. They are trying to communicate something to us, Sparks said.
“So, people who are perpetrators of shaken baby syndrome are not necessarily mean people; they are not bad people, they are not monsters. They are people who have a limited ability to control their impulses; they don’t deal with frustration well and they don’t know much about babies.”
Sparks said some medical professionals don’t recognize the symptoms, which can include lethargy, vomiting, swelling and bruising on the head and inability to focus with the eyes. Sometimes there are no symptoms, and the damage develops years later.
Criminal charges for shaking a baby can include murder, manslaughter and endangering a child.
For those who are starting to lose their tempers, Sparks recommends asking for help from a spouse, family member or neighbor. If that’s not possible, it’s better to let the baby cry.
“Put the baby in the bed and walk out, and let them cry until you can compose yourself or until you can get the assistance you need,” Sparks said.