Massachusetts child abuse specialists say that cases of “shaken baby syndrome” which can cause devastating brain injury to infants have at least doubled in the last few months. They attribute the increase in frequency to economic stress on families in this challenging economy. Shaken baby syndrome is preventable. Near the end of this article, you will find a link to information about prevention. I bring this to your attention because shaken baby syndrome occurs right here in Traverse City and its environs as well.
In fact, one of the most tragic cases that I’ve ever worked on was a shaken baby case. This was early in my career when I did court-appointed work in neglect and abuse cases. In that case, the father was sentenced to prison for 10 years. The mother terminated her parental rights and the child, a special needs child who would always need extensive supervision and care, was adopted by foster parents.
According to the Boston Globe, child protection teams at Children's Hospital in Boston and Mass General have investigated more than twice as many shaken baby syndrome in the last three months compared with the same period last year.
Research shows that economic stress is linked to increased child abuse, according to the Globe. Child protection workers say issues like layoffs and other stressors, such as utilities being turned off because of nonpayment are often linked to shaken baby cases.
Shaken baby syndrome occurs when an adult violently shakes a baby. This often occurs is the adult is under stress and overwhelmed by a baby’s crying. A baby’s neck muscles are too weak to support the head. This can, if the baby is shaken, expose a baby’s fragile brain to potentially overwhelming injury. Research shows that about one in four victims die; severe neurological problems usually occur in the other victims.
Many factors can lead to shaken baby syndrome such as
- Economic stress
- Immaturity of parents and lack of support systems
- A feeling of helplessness, hopelessness or inadequacy by inexperienced parents
- The number of children in the family (and the various stressors this means)
- Social isolation of some parents
- Breakdown in family systems – increase in one-parent families and also in multiple relationships (new boyfriends, for example)
The watchful eyes and ears of friends, family and neighbors can help prevent shaken baby syndrome. Here are some other valuable resources:
Preventing shaken baby syndrome – tips from the Massachusetts Shaken Baby Syndrome Initiative
Reporting child abuse - information and resources
Shaking a baby shatters lives – an article on Updates in Michigan Family Law with links to resources
Read the Globe article Shaken baby cases on the increase here