The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

February 2, 2013

Shaken baby syndrome often happens with first-time parents

ENID, Okla. — Marie Holsten, district director for Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said incidents of shaken baby syndrome often happen with first-time parents, but that’s not always the scenario.

Shaking of the baby can happen when the child is in the care of anyone not prepared to deal with the crying, or when the person caring for the child already is overwhelmed and frustrated by other things, and the crying of the baby becomes the trigger that prompts their frustration to boil over, she said.

When a physician examines the baby, often the most telling clue to what happened is the baby’s retinas are detached, a sign the baby has been violently shaken, Holsten said. The hospital notifies police, and the police notify child protective case workers with DHS. Both police and a DHS case worker come to the hospital.

Enid police have been summoned to local hospitals for shaken-baby incidents a handful of times in the past year and a half, said Detective John Robinson. He and his partner, Tim Doyle, usually work together on any type of child abuse investigation.

“Normally, when we become involved, we’ll meet with the parents and try to determine who was with the kids, what the timeline was,” Robinson said.

While the detectives’ first priority is to find out what happened before the baby was brought to the hospital, they also look at the history of the family.

Robinson said police often are summoned as soon as a baby is brought to a hospital unresponsive, before the physician has diagnosed shaken baby syndrome.

“Sometimes the baby is deceased,” Holsten said. “Sometimes they are injured, and sometimes they are being medi-flighted to another hospital.”

Holsten said most often they are transferred to Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, and end up on life support.

“Lots of times it’s too far gone and the family has to deal with taking them off life support,” Holsten said, shaking her head.

DHS takes no voice in a decision to remove life support, Holsten said. That decision can only be made by the parents.

If the baby survives being shaken, the resulting injuries can be devastating: Blindness, developmental disabilities, being unable to eat, needing to wear diapers for the rest of their lives and having seizures.

“This is a severely sad situation,” Holsten said. “They just lose all semblance of normalcy.”

Lisa Rhoades, Period of PURPLE Crying project co-leader and Oklahoma Child Death Review Board member, agreed babies who survive often have debilitating injuries.

“Babies will cry, and there will be times that no amount of soothing is going to change that,” Rhoades said. “That is normal, and a stress reaction is normal, but we need to teach ourselves when that stress hits, to walk away. If we need to walk away, we need to.”

DHS statistics for fiscal year 2011 show there were 20 confirmed incidents of shaken baby syndrome in the state during that year. In May 2011, Oklahoma Child Death Review Board members included a funding request for the Period of PURPLE Crying program, along with their recommendations to the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth.

Holsten emphasizes parents should be mindful of who they leave in charge of their children.

“A lot of people are going back to work,” Holsten said. “Make sure you get a licensed day care provider. You need to be careful who you are leaving your child with.”ʷ

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