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Fairfield police have launched an effort to educate parents, babysitters and other child care providers about shaken baby syndrome. The term refers to child abuse caused by vigorously shaking an infant in anger or frustration to make the baby stop crying or whining. The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome in Farmington, Utah, estimates that 1,200 to 1,400 children in the United States are victims of the abuse each year, and that roughly 300 of them die.
The numbers may be higher because not all cases are reported, according to the organization. Eighty percent of the children who survive suffer permanent disabilities that include severe brain damage, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, behavioral disorders and impaired motor and cognitive skills, according to the center. When a baby is shaken, the brain rotates inside the skull cavity, injuring or destroying brain tissue and tearing blood vessels that cause bleeding around the brain, according to the center. Blood pools within the skull and creates more pressure that can cause additional brain damage.
Fairfield police have purchased a $900 RealCare Shaken Baby doll simulator, and have received a second shaken baby simulator donated by the Twilight Rotary Club. Like real infants, the RealCare Shaken Baby simulator cries inconsolably. When the doll is shaken, a device in its head measures the force that is inflicted on its “brain.” The simulator’s cries stop abruptly, and LED lights, visible through the doll’s clear plastic skull, identify areas in the brain where damage occurs in seconds in real time. It is meant to be a graphic representation of the harm that is inflicted on the brain of a shaken human infant.
A Fairfield man was arrested in September for abusing his 5-month-old child, who survived but was seriously injured, Fairfield police Sgt. Kevin Carella said. “That was the catalyst,” Carella said. The Police Department’s family violence unit is offering to demonstrate the simulator during three- to four-hour classes in school districts, service clubs, young mothers’ education groups, and groups for parents and prospective parents, Carella said.
The classes will include not only a demonstration of the simulator, but discussion about the many reasons babies cry, ways to cope with frustration and distress, helpful ways to soothe a crying baby and signs and symptoms of shaken baby syndrome. Participants will pledge to never shake a baby.
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