Child abuse is a dirty secret

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 18, 2005

Child abuse is a dirty little secret that no one knows about until it’s too late for the victim. It usually goes undetected until the child is taken to an emergency room for treatment and then it’s discovered only if the medical care givers are really alert for the symptoms.

In the most recent case in Gates County, a baby was shaken. Doctors tell us that when a baby is vigorously shaken, the head moves back and forth. This sudden whiplash motion can cause bleeding inside the head and increased pressure on the brain, causing the brain to pull apart and resulting in injury to the baby. This is known as Shaken Baby Syndrome, and is one of the leading forms of fatal child abuse.

A baby’s head and neck are susceptible to head trauma because his or her muscles are not fully developed and the brain tissue is exceptionally fragile. Head trauma is the leading cause of disability among abused infants and children.

It is not as hard as people may first believe to become an abusive parent. Often frustrated parents or other persons responsible for a child’s care feel that shaking a baby is a harmless way to make a child stop crying. The number one reason a baby is shaken is because of inconsolable crying. Statistics from the National Shaken Baby Syndrome database tell us that almost 25 percent of all babies with Shaken Baby Syndrome die.

Surprisingly, it is estimated that 25-50 percent of parents and caretakers aren’t aware of the effects of shaking a baby.

There are many ways to hurt a baby, even unintentionally. Child care experts and the National Shaken Baby Center tell us to never throw or shake a baby. Always provide support for the baby’s head and neck.

Also, if the baby cries when you place him in a crib, leave the room for a few minutes, sit down, close your eyes and count to 20.

There are also a number of ways to calm the baby and in many cases, to stop the crying. Take the baby for a stroller ride or play music, or sing to the baby. You could ask a friend to &uot;take over&uot; for a while. Most importantly, don’t pick the baby up until you feel calm.

Making sure the baby is fed, burped and dry will also help keep baby calm. They also enjoy gentle rocking or walking with the baby in your arms.

To keep your baby comfortable, you can check for discomfort of diaper rash, teething or fever. By all means, call the doctor if you think the baby is sick, and make sure clothing is not too tight

Sometimes, it’s as simple as giving the baby a pacifier, or offering a noisy toy or rattle.

But, most of all hug and cuddle the baby gently. There is not a baby that does not enjoy the assuring and loving touch of its family.

A team of people who know how to show compassion and empathy as they work with families where a baby has been shaken or otherwise abused operates the Department of Social Services in Gates County.

Colleen Turner, the Director of DSS, and the social workers know the problems families sometimes face and they understand the stresses moms and dads experience, especially with new babies. If you are having difficulties adjusting, or need help in another type of abuse case, contact Supervisor Ann Holley and she will most certainly put you with one of the social workers so that you can avoid situations like the shaken baby case under investigation right now. You can also contact DSS just to obtain a brochure or more information on how to prevent child abuse and Shaken Baby Syndrome. Call 357-0075.