Lawmakers Focus on Spice While Babies Die
Daily Press – Newport News, Va.
Author: TAMARA DIETRICH Daily Press
February 05, 2011
Imagine there’s a sick serial killer out there, targeting infants.
He batters their fragile heads mercilessly. One in four of them die within hours or days. The rest are so badly brain-damaged they may linger for a few years, but are little more than vegetables.
Imagine that last year he killed two babies in Newport News and another in Virginia Beach. And left more dead and disabled infants in his wake throughout the state.
Imagine that last week he struck again, killing an 11-month-old girl in Hampton.
How badly do you want to see him stopped?
Now back to reality. And the reality is, there is no one serial killer out there beating on babies.
Although, if there were, there’d be a ferocious push from here to Richmond to end his reign of terror.
Instead, it’s a different culprit in each case. A parent or a caregiver.
But the modus operandi is the same: shaken baby syndrome.
And this is the real serial killer snuffing out thousands of babies throughout this country every year.
Fortunately, many states are rallying to combat shaken baby syndrome (SBS), but it’s not easy. It takes research and studies, community support and cost-benefit analyses, new policies and legislation. It takes money. It takes time. That’s how change happens on a statewide level.
Virginia is rallying, too, but at what seems like a maddening snail’s pace.
Last year, lawmakers did pass legislation requiring the Department of Social Services to make information about SBS available to all licensed child welfare programs, foster and adoptive parents, and the staff of child day care programs and residential facilities.
That resulted in brochures, online tips and a one-minute video on the DSS website advising young men to “keep your cool” rather than shake their crying babies.
Nice. But, as the infant body count since then shows, clearly not enough.
And so the same couple behind the push for last year’s legislation, Steve and Kathy Stowe of Hampton, are pushing lawmakers a little harder this year.
The Stowes cared for their grandson, Jared, who passed away at the age of 3 from injuries he suffered as a newborn when he was shaken by his father.
Through Del. Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, a resolution is easily passing through the General Assembly to study the number of SBS cases in Virginia, their medical costs, the best practices in other states to prevent SBS, and funding sources to implement those practices here.
The findings are expected before the General Assembly meets next year.
But it lacks the fire and urgency that typically results whenever yet another child gets shaken to death. Consider these online comments on the baby who died last week after being shaken by her mother: “Tie her tubes forever!” “What could an 11-month-old little girl do that would cause you to shake her into a coma then death?” “Stop hurting and killing your children. Coward!!” Now that’s passion.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention produced a guide for health departments and community-based organizations on “Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome.” It outlines what works in other states, including a model in upstate New York that begins with nurses in birthing hospitals having both parents read a pamphlet, watch a video and sign a commitment statement on SBS before their baby is discharged from the hospital. It launched in 1998.
Also effective is educating high schoolers on SBS, having pediatricians educate parents at well-child check-ups, and media campaigns.
The New York model, the CDC says, resulted in “significantly decreased” incidence of shaken babies. It’s since been adopted by many other states.
I understand our lawmakers are cautious. They like studies and thoughtful consideration.
But I also know they can throw caution to the wind right quick when it comes to bills to criminalize synthetic pot and lock up tokers for years, without a cost-benefit analysis or impact study in sight.
Meanwhile, how many babies will die this year, and next, before we finally give this relentless killer the urgent attention it deserves?
Contact Dietrich at 757-247-7892 or email@example.com.