Improve the future for our children

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Our children are our future, right?

We keep hearing that phrase, over and over, out of the mouths of local, state and federal politicians alike.

They spout it like a mantra, geared toward appealing to parents, yet how much, exactly, is ever done to protect the future for our children?

How much is done to try and make that future better? Brighter? Safer? Some days, it seems, not much.

One thing that’s very disappointing to me is the apparent lack of interest among United States Senators and Representatives in co-sponsoring one of the most important pieces of legislation ever introduced to date for the safety of our children.

I’m talking about the Shaken Baby Prevention Act of 2007 (H.R. 2052 and S. 1204).

The bill was introduced in April and still only has 23 co-sponsors in the House and four in the Senate.

Out of 535 federal legislators, 27 supporters is not an acceptable number for something so important.

My son was a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) when he was just seven weeks old.

Like the majority of victims who survive, he may suffer life-long problems as a result of being shaken.

The Shaken Baby Prevention Act would put in place federal education programs for new parents, caregivers and the general public to teach them the dangers of shaking a baby and ways of coping with crying.

While some people might see it as obvious to &uot;never shake a baby,&uot; up to 50 percent of people don’t know that it’s never okay.

Unlike most forms of child abuse, shaking a baby rarely happens intentionally.

It usually occurs when a parent or any other caregiver becomes frustrated with a crying child and shakes the baby.

Yet shaking causes irreversible brain damage and can even cause blindness or death.

Each year in the United States alone, an estimated 1,400-1,600 babies are shaken for whom treatment is sought.

A recent study done by Dr. Desmond Runyan at UNC-Chapel Hill found that in the Carolinas, for every one case of diagnosed SBS, an additional 150 unreported cases may occur.

Those numbers equate to 2.6 percent of children who may have been shaken at some point before the age of two.

To me, that’s astonishing and very, very disturbing.

One in four babies who are diagnosed with SBS die from their injuries.

Most of the rest will have permanent complications, which may include seizure disorders, learning disorders, behavioral problems, developmental delays, loss of motor control, speech delays, blindness, deafness, or a combination of any of these things.

Many of these children grow up and yet never advance mentally or developmentally beyond the capacity of a one-month-old baby.

In addition to the loss of the &uot;normal&uot; relationship they would have had with their families, they cost society a tremendous amount of money.

Initial hospitalization costs, ongoing follow-up treatments, and special education needs can add up to millions of dollars spent on each shaken baby.

Yet most of these tragedies could be prevented through simple education.

A study done in New York found that instances of SBS were reduced by 47 percent in areas surrounding hospitals that had SBS education programs implemented for new parents.

Since parents are the offenders 50 percent of the time, it only stands to reason that these programs are almost totally effective in preventing the parents at least from shaking their babies.

If that education could be carried one step further to teach other caregivers as well, perhaps most cases of SBS could be eliminated entirely.

Why, with all this knowledge, aren’t the US Senators and Representatives more interested in passing something that will protect children in the future?

Not one single senator or representative in North Carolina has signed on to co-sponsor this bill.

I urge them to do so.

Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, Representative G.K. Butterfield and the remainder of the North Carolina Congressional delegation – I urge you to take a stand behind the children of our state.

Readers of this column, I urge you to contact these representatives – or whoever is your representative if you live in another state – and ask them to co-sponsor this bill.

So many children’s lives could be saved and so many families spared the pain of having to watch a child grow up without his or her full potential, if only our Congressmen would take a stand for those who cannot speak for themselves – the children.