Point of View: Candy Yoder
A 3-month-old baby, two broken legs, one broken arm, symptoms of shaken baby syndrome: These words just don’t belong together.
And yet, there they are together in a report from the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department regarding an incident on July 19 in which a baby was apparently injured severely at a babysitter’s home on Elkhart’s far west side.
This just happened a few days ago as I write this; too soon for charges to have been filed, too soon even for an investigation to be completed.
All we know is that it did happen – again – and when a baby is violently shaken, we can’t help but be horrified, saddened or even angered when it happens. It’s always a tragedy. It’s always preventable.
It’s a tragedy because we know the terrible effects of abuse and neglect on children. Decades of scientific studies have confirmed that child victims of abuse suffer higher rates of myriad mental illnesses and physical diseases, have lower life expectancies, tend to have trouble forming trusting, loving relationships with people, have behavioral problems, and on and on. Every quality of life measure you can imagine is harmed by childhood trauma.
In cases of shaken baby syndrome, also known as Abusive Head Trauma, children suffer brain damage that results in crippling physical and mental disabilities. They may experience muscular abnormalities as they grow. A normal, healthy life becomes impossible for the child and the child’s family.
That’s all assuming the child survives the abuse. Twenty-five percent of shaken babies die from their injuries.
It’s preventable because studies have shown these shaken baby abuse incidents most often happen when a baby is crying and the caregiver or parent can’t make the crying stop. The incessant crying known as Purple Crying can stem from colic, illness or as a part of normal infant development. Babies cry, and it can be stressful for people who don’t understand that.
Understanding why babies cry, what to do about it and how to manage one’s stress while a baby cries are all keys to preventing these incidents, whether the perpetrator is a parent, a grandparent, a sibling or a babysitter.
The CAPS Healthy Families program works with families of newborns to educate all potential caretakers on normal infant development, strategies to soothe a crying baby, how to safely handle a baby to prevent injury and how to deal with your own stress.
CAPS Parenting Education programs help everyone, even non-parents, better understand how to communicate and interact with infants and children of all ages in a positive, productive way, avoiding the stressful, emotional conditions that make abuse and neglect more likely.
Online, there are a multitude of informational websites that provide knowledge on shaken baby syndrome and how to prevent it. The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome – dontshake.org – is a perfect place to start.
As many cases of shaken baby involve a babysitter or non-family caretaker, it’s important to know how to choose a babysitter and what information they should have to keep your child or children safe. Check out CAPSElkhart.org under Resources and Tips for a guide on choosing the right babysitter for your child.
As with most things, knowledge is the key to finding a better way. Arm yourself with the basic knowledge needed to prevent shaken baby syndrome and share it with the parents and caretakers in your life.
Read up on how to choose a safe and competent babysitter and establish ground rules for your children’s care before you leave him or her to care for your baby in your absence. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do – and what not to do – when your baby cries. These steps will keep your baby safe even someone else is caring for them.
Spreading this knowledge could save a child’s life. It could save your child’s life.
Candy Yoder is the President/CEO of CAPS – Child And Parent Services.