Event raises awareness

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2008

WINDSOR – People in Bertie County had the opportunity to learn more about child safety in general and Shaken Baby Syndrome in particular here Saturday.

During a three-hour event, Stop Shaken Baby Syndrome, Inc. founder Jennipher Dickens, Judicial District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell and others shared information about keeping children safe.

The event, held at Livermon Zoo and Park, was part of National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Week.

Bertie County Commissioner Rick Harrell welcomed people to the event and thanked Dickens for the work she has done to raise awareness about the deadly affects of shaking a baby.

“I know Jennipher has helped me learn more about Shaken Baby Syndrome,” he said. “We want to thank her for her efforts to educate people in Bertie County.”

Windsor Mayor Bob Spivey echoed Harrell’s thoughts, also offering a welcome and expressing appreciation for Dickens’ work.

When it was her time to speak, Dickens talked about her own child’s encounter with SBS.

“A year and a half ago, I went through every mother’s worst nightmare,” Dickens told those gathered. “My son experienced something no child should ever have to experience n he was violently shaken by his biological father.

“It was something I never saw coming,” she continued. “I never would have thought my ex-husband was capable of doing something to harm a child, let alone his own flesh and blood, but he did and now he is serving time behind bars for his actions.”

Dickens then talked about what her son, Christopher, and others who are shaken have to go through.

“Today, my son has come a long way, but he nevertheless still has permanent brain damage,” she said. “The same goes for 85 percent of babies who are shaken. One quarter of babies who are shaken die within a few days of their injuries and the majority of the rest are left with severe lifelong disabilities.”

Dickens warned those in attendance that shaking a baby could take seconds, but the affects are likely permanent.

“A few seconds of shaking is all it takes to kill or permanently disable a child,” Dickens said. “Babies are so fragile and we as adults are so much bigger than they are that it doesn’t take much to seriously harm them.

“My son will live the rest of his life without the whole brain he was born with because his biological father lost control and shook him,” she added. “In just a few seconds, Christopher’s life was altered. Don’t let that happen to your child, too.”

Later in the afternoon, Asbell talked about SBS in particular and child abuse in general.

“To my knowledge, there have not been any other Shaken Baby Syndrome child abuse cases charged or prosecuted in this district,” she said. “It was fortunate in this case that Jennipher was astute enough and knew her child well enough to know that something was wrong and immediately reported it to medical personnel. But for that in this situation, the consequences may have been quite different.”

Asbell also gave her promise that she would take child abuse seriously.

“As District Attorney, I am not going to tolerate this type of child abuse or any other type of child abuse and I will prosecute any person who chooses to hurt or neglect a child, whether it is their child or not,” she said. “Shaking a baby may occur as a response of frustration to a baby’s inconsolable crying or as an act of routine abuse. In most cases, as in this one, there were signs of old injuries consistent with routine abuse.”

She also talked about a repeat offender who shook and killed his child who was five months old. After only one year and 11 months behind bars for that death, he was released and shook two more children.

Asbell said she was happy to be part of the event.

“I am happy to be part of such a wonderful effort to raise awareness for Shaken Baby Syndrome,” Asbell said. “As District Attorney and a mother, I would rather not see anyone in court for this type of offense. This type of event raises awareness and also lets people know that these actions are not only morally wrong, but criminal as well.”

A variety of community sponsors helped the event become a reality.

“I appreciate everyone who helped to make this event happen,” Dickens said.